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Hedge fund Elliott Management shifts to elephant hunting as fund size balloons




Paul Singer

David A. Grogan | CNBC

Until fairly recently, activist hedge fund Elliott Management’s core technology investing strategy was pretty straightforward: Target a smallish company known for selling software to businesses, agitate for a sale — sometimes by offering to buy the company — and profit when a buyer came along. Some of the targets were well-known within particular tech sector niches, like BMC, Novell and Informatica, but none were giants or household names. 

Elliott, founded by billionaire Paul Singer, notched sale after sale, reaping gains from the associated premiums on the acquisitions. 

Its track record gave Singer a reputation among CEOs and board members as the world’s most feared investor. Former AthenaHealth CEO Jonathan Bush, whose company was targeted by Elliott in 2017, described doing research on Elliott as ‘Googling this thing on your arm and it says, ‘You’re going to die.'” The New Yorker called Singer a “Doomsday Investor,” highlighting a series of unflattering tactics taken by one of Singer’s top lieutenants, Jesse Cohn, to oust Bush from his role.

But in the past few years, a gradual but noticeable transformation has taken place at Elliott: The technology targets have gotten bigger.

In 2019, Elliott bought stakes in eBay ($34 billion market capitalization), SAP ($159 billion) and AT&T ($217 billion market cap). This year, Elliott has already targeted Twitter ($26 billion market cap) and SoftBank ($93 billion). 

The change was driven at least in part by Elliott’s growth. The fund’s assets under management this year are about $42 billion — doubling from 2012, including a $5 billion raise in 24 hours in 2017. The smaller transactions no longer move the needle like they once did. 

Finding suitable software targets has also become more difficult as multiples have expanded, companies have consolidated, and management has become more sophisticated. Elliott continues to look at some midsize enterprise software companies, including Instructure, which sold to private equity firm Thoma Bravo in a deal that closed last month for about $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. But the firm hasn’t acted, believing targets to be fully valued.

The bigger targets have required the firm to adjust its tactics. Elliott has had to be more collaborative, working with companies that have no obvious buyers given their size.

Cohn, who has led most of Elliott’s technology transactions, now sits on the boards of both eBay and Twitter. Rather than agitating for public change, he has worked in tandem with management at both companies — a tactic used by activist fund ValueAct, which earned a reputation as being “friendly” after taking a stake at Microsoft in 2013, months before CEO Steve Ballmer stepped down. (ValueAct and Microsoft both denied that the firm played a part in ousting Ballmer, but the firm’s investment is credited with drawing new attention to the company’s stagnant stock price and strategic missteps under Ballmer’s tenure.)

As Elliott’s strategy shifted, it also got more sophisticated. When Elliott was investing in midsize enterprise software companies, the firm was “a bunch of technology investors,” according to people familiar with how the firm was run. Today, when examining companies like eBay or Twitter, the firm calls upon its own Internet analysts, software analysts, operation analysts, consultants and stable of installed board members to help make decisions.

A spokesman for Elliott declined to comment for this story.

The old Elliott way

Elliott’s investments are widespread and not limited to technology. Not every stake is activist in nature, which in Elliott’s case often means making public requests to find a buyer, replace a chief executive or sell assets.

But Elliott, and especially Cohn, have earned a reputation for finding cash-rich private equity funds hungry for acquisitions and attacking vulnerable publicly traded companies without controlling shareholders.

In the past, Cohn has had a running dialogue with many of the world’s largest leveraged buyout firms to gauge their interest in particular companies, a practice that may seem like collusion but is legal. Private equity firms, including Thoma Bravo, Vista Equity Partners and Francisco Partners, flourished alongside of Cohn as cloud computing companies soared in value.

Still, most idea generation for investment came internally, as the firm screened for inexpensive companies that fit what private equity firms are looking for. 

In 2010, Elliott offered $1 billion to buy software company Novell. A few months later, The Attachmate Group bought Novell for $2.2 billion, and Elliott’s stake soared. In 2012, Elliott bought an 8% stake in Compuware, followed by a bid to buy the company.  Compuware rejected the offer but was acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo in 2014. 

Elliott’s 2013 target was BMC, eventually resulting to a $6.9 billion acquisition led by private equity firms Bain and Golden Gate Capital. 2014 was Riverbed, leading to a $3.6 billion buyout from Thoma Bravo.

In 2015, Elliott took a stake in Informatica. A few months later, private equity firm Permira and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board led a $5.3 billion acquisition. Later that year, Elliott bought more than 7% of Citrix, leading to a failed sales process and divestments. 2016’s targets included Qlik (again acquired by Thoma Bravo) Lifelock (bought by Symantec) and Mentor Graphics (sold to Siemens for $4.5 billion). 

After years of working with private equity firms and figuring out what traits made for a good sale target, Elliott decided to get into the private equity business itself. In 2015, Elliott launched its own fund, Evergreen Coast Capital, which became the company’s new tool, acquiring companies including Gigamon for $1.6 billion in 2017 and LogMeIn for $4.3 billion in 2019. 

Meanwhile, existing private equity funds, such as KKR and TPG, witnessed Elliott’s success and have recently taken activist stakes in public companies instead of trying for total buyouts.

Hunting elephants

While people familiar with Elliott’s go-forward strategy say the firm hasn’t abandoned enterprise software, they acknowledge the fund’s focus has shifted to larger targets. They expect that to continue as long as assets under management remain the same or grow.

Elliott can’t use the same tactics with the world’s largest companies that it took with smaller targets. The fund isn’t going to find a buyer for AT&T — it’s simply too large.  

But based on early evidence, Elliott is selecting large targets where it sees a lack of focus. Under CEO Randall Stephenson, AT&T made several disastrous acquisition decisions and veered away from its core wireless business to become a giant media company with its $110 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Elliott pounced, demanding divestitures and leadership changes. Stephenson responded by announcing his retirement, leading to a months-long executive search. WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey will take his place on July 1. The company is currently hunting for a buyer for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which makes video games, and could fetch around $4 billion for the deal, CNBC previously reported.

SoftBank also moved away from its original wireless business, both in the U.S. and Japan, to become a gigantic technology holding company. Along the way, it invested tens of billions of dollars in high-growth but unprofitable start-ups like Uber, WeWork, DoorDash, Slack and Didi Chuxing. WeWork’s implosion and the Covid-19 pandemic led to SoftBank’s worst quarterly earnings results in its nearly four-decade history in May. Elliott again pounced on the company’s lack of direction and use of capital, forcing billionaire founder Masayoshi Son to guarantee $4.8 billion would be allocated for share buybacks instead of further company investments. 

Perhaps to avoid a messy conflict, eBay is simply taking Elliott’s advice. It agreed to divest Stubhub (Viagogo bought it for about $4 billion in November) and its classifieds business, a sale that’s expected to close in six to eight weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Elliott has also said it believes there buyers for the remainder of eBay, but so far, the company hasn’t started a sale process for its marketplace business, according to people familiar with the matter.  

Mixed results

The jury is still out on some of Elliott’s recent big swings.

When Elliott first took a stake in AT&T, Cohn said he had interviewed “hundreds of former executives, competitors and partners who have questioned AT&T’s leadership.” Elliott wanted to replace Stephenson, but the firm had also privately been highly critical of Stankey and blamed him, as much as anyone, for AT&T’s $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2015. That deal looked bad almost immediately as millions of people began fleeing satellite TV for Internet streaming options such as Netflix and Google‘s YouTube TV.

But when AT&T actually interviewed potential replacements for Stephenson, the company couldn’t find anyone with the right experience to run a large wireless company that’s also now a large media company. Stankey, who has been at AT&T since 1985 and became WarnerMedia’s CEO when AT&T closed its acquisition in 2018, was uniquely qualified among candidates, despite his checkered decision making with DirecTV.

Elliott came to realize it didn’t have a better idea and eventually backed AT&T’s decision to give Stankey a chance as Stephenson’s replacement.

When Elliott took its stake in AT&T, the wireless and media giant had a market value of about $270 billion. As of Friday’s close, it has an equity value of about $217 billion.

At Twitter, Elliott called to replace Jack Dorsey as CEO, criticizing him for a lack of focus as he splits his time running both Twitter and Square. But just two weeks after Elliott sent its first letter to the company informing Twitter of its stake, Twitter and Elliott reached a settlement on March 9 with Dorsey remaining as CEO. While it’s unclear when exactly Elliott made its Twitter investment, shares haven’t risen from March 10 to Friday. The S&P 500 is up about 6% over the same period. Elliott maintains its stake in Twitter.

Whether Elliott’s future tactics are collaborative or combative, the fund’s role in society will remain a judgment call. Critics say activists like Elliott aren’t company builders, but instead push for divestitures and leadership upheaval with an extremely short-term focus that is unhelpful in driving innovation or long-term benefit. One investment banker who often gets hired by companies to fight off activists noted that if Elliott were around in the mid-1990s, it probably would have pushed to sell Apple to private equity, robbing the world of the advancements that came with Steve Jobs’ return in late 1996. 

Supporters, meanwhile, say activists force boards to stay honest and prevent laziness or even outright fraud. 

With Elliott moving to bigger targets, the bottom line is clear: No company is safe. But maybe the experience of being targeted won’t be quite so painful. 

WATCH: Europe will follow North American investor activism trends, expert says



The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more




Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.


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Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery




Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.


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GenTech Proudly Secures Deal with TruLife Distribution to Drive Growth in SINFIT Digital Sales




Denver, CO, October 21, 2020 – OTC PR WIRE – GenTech Holdings, Inc. (OTC PINK: GTEH) (“GenTech” or the “Company”), an emerging leader in the high-end Premium Coffee (, Hemp Wellness ( and Functional Foods ( marketplaces, along with its SINFIT Nutrition brand (“SINFIT”), is excited to announce that the Company has signed a new marketing, sales, and distribution agreement (the “Agreement”) with TruLife Distribution (“TruLife”) (, a leader in marketing, distribution, compliance, e-commerce, and advisory services in the Functional Foods marketplace. The main focus of the new Agreement will be to accelerate the growth of e-commerce sales of SINFIT products, particularly over the platform.

TruLife provides direct access to sales on Amazon, Walmart, Rakuten, Wish, TopHatter, and other top e-commerce platforms, allowing clients to instantly list, ship, and sell products through any major platform, with an experienced team of experts and a proven track record of success in brand placement and digital sales strategies.

“We have already demonstrated a significant & expansive growth curve since taking control of the SINFIT brand in June,” commented Harold Vaca, VP Domestic Sales of SINFIT. “But the vast majority of that growth has been driven by large purchase orders from major distribution partners, both domestic and international. We are also committed to aggressively pursuing end-market consumer direct purchases through our e-commerce footprint, which will provide additional growth and diversify our cash flow ecosystem, making our overall strategy less dependent upon any one source of demand, while driving further growth in total sales.”

Management notes that e-commerce sales represent a sizeable portion of overall retail sales growth worldwide, with more than $3.5 trillion in online sales accounting for over 14% of total pre-pandemic global retail sales. Since the onset of the global health crisis, that ratio has shifted decisively further in favor of e-commerce sales, which is not likely to entirely revert back upon the advent of a viable and widely accessible vaccine.

Vaca added, “We have seen an epic process of market penetration for e-commerce platforms this year as major online retailers have begun to reach a much wider base of consumers – people who haven’t ever shopped much online, but have been forced to during recent months out of personal health concerns. Many of them will almost certainly continue to make use of e-commerce now that they have tried it out, at least to some extent, making e-commerce an essential sales channel for SINFIT products. TruLife has the network, team, experience, and resources to dramatically augment our e-commerce performance.”

SINFIT branded products registered over $2.2 million in global sales in 2019, and are now approved for sale and available for purchase on the and e-commerce platforms as well as in over 2,500 GNC locations in North America and over 10,000 global physical and e-commerce stores across more than 10 countries around the world.

SINFIT products as well-positioned relative to peers and to the long-term macro tailwind defining the functional foods market, which saw sales top $267 billion in February of this year on a global basis, with sales in the US reaching $63 billion, according to Euromonitor 2020. This trend is part of a larger supportive momentum in the general category, with global sales of organic food and drink topping $105 billion in 2018 (Ecovia 2019). U.S. organic food sales also reached $47.9 billion, up 5.9% in 2018 (OTA 2019). In 2019, 77% of U.S. adults used dietary supplements, an all-time high (CRN 2019). U.S. supplement sales are estimated to have reached $49.3 billion in 2019, up 6.2% (NBJ 2019).

About GenTech Holdings, Inc.:

GenTech Holdings, Inc. is a publicly traded company under the symbol GTEH. The Company launched a high-end Coffee Subscription service in early 2020 called Secret Javas, owns a Functional Food company, SINFIT Nutrition and recently closed its acquisition on Products-Groups’ “Hakuna Supply”.

Forward-Looking Statements
This press release may contain forward-looking statements, including information about management’s view of GenTech, Inc.’s future expectations, plans and prospects. In particular, when used in the preceding discussion, the words “believes,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “anticipates,” or “may,” and similar conditional expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. Any statements made in this news release other than those of historical fact, about an action, event or development, are forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, which may cause the results of GenTech, its subsidiaries and concepts to be materially different than those expressed or implied in such statements. Unknown or unpredictable factors also could have material adverse effects on GenTech’s future results. The forward-looking statements included in this press release are made only as of the date hereof. GenTech cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements. Accordingly, you should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements. Finally, GenTech undertakes no obligation to update these statements after the date of this release, except as required by law, and also takes no obligation to update or correct information prepared by third parties that are not paid for by GenTech.

Corporate Contact:


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