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How the pandemic drove the IPO wave we see today




This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

I had a neat look into the world of mental health startup fundraising planned for this week, but after being slow-motion carpet-bombed by S-1s, that is now shoved off to Monday and we have to pause and talk about COVID-19.

The pandemic has been the most animating force for startups and venture capital in 2020, discounting the slow movement of global business into the digital realm. But COVID did more than that, as we all know. It crashed some companies as assuredly as it gave others a boost. For every Peloton there is probably a Toast, in other words.

Such is the case with this week’s crop of unicorn IPO candidates, though they are unsurprisingly weighted far more toward the COVID-accelerated cohort of startups instead of the group of startups that the pandemic cut off at the knees. 

More simply, COVID-19 gave most of our recent IPOs a polite shove in the back, helping them jog a bit faster toward the public-offering finish line. Let’s talk about it.

Roblox, the gaming company that targets kids, has been a beneficiary during the COVID-19 pandemic, as folks stayed home and, it appears, gave their kids money to buy in-game currency so that their parents could have some peace. Great business, even if Roblox warned that growth could slow sharply next year, when compared to its epic 2020 gains.

But Roblox is hardly the only company taking advantage of COVID-19’s impacts on the market to get public while their numbers are stellar. We saw DoorDash file last week, crowing from atop a mountain of revenue growth that came in part from you and I trying to stay home since March. As it turns out you order more delivery when you can’t leave your house.

Affirm got a COVID-19 boost as well, with not only e-commerce spend growing — Affirm provides point-of-sale loans to consumers during online shopping — but also because Peloton took off, and lots of folks chose to finance their new exercise bike with the payment service. Call it a double-boost.

The IPO is well-timed. Wish falls into the same bucket, though it did hit some supply-chain and delivery issues due to the pandemic, so you could argue it either way.

Regardless, as we have seen from global numbers, COVID-19 is very much not done wreaking havoc on our health, happiness, and ability to go about normal life. So the trends that this week’s S-1s have shown us still have some room to run.

Which is irksome for Airbnb, a unicorn that was supposed to have debuted already via a direct listing, but instead had to hit pause, borrow money, lay off staff, and now jog to the startup finish line with less revenue in this Q3 than the last. In time, Airbnb will get back to full-speed, but among our new IPO candidates it’s the only company net-harmed by COVID-19. That makes it special.

There are other trends to keep tabs on, regarding the pandemic. Not every software company that you might expect to be thriving at the moment actually is; Workday shares are off 8% today as I write to you, because the company said that COVID-19 is harming its ability to land new customers. Here’s its CFO Robynne Sisco from its earnings call

Keep in mind, however, that while we have seen some recent stability in the underlying environment, headwinds due to COVID remains particularly to net new bookings. And given our subscription model, these headwinds that have impacted us all year will be more fully evident in next year’s subscription revenue weighing on our growth in the near-term.

Yeesh. So don’t look at recent IPOs and think that all things are good for all companies, or even all software companies. (To be clear, the pandemic is a human crisis, but my job is to talk about its business impacts so here we are. Hugs, and please stay as safe as you can.)

Market Notes

There was so much news this week that we have to be annoyingly summary. 

I caught up with Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras the other day, giving The Exchange a chance to parse what happened to the company during the early COVID days when the company decided to cut staff. The short answer from the CEO is that the company went from growing 10% to 15% each month, to seeing negative growth — not a sin, Airbnb saw negative gross bookings for a few months earlier this year — and as the company had hired for a big year, it had to make cuts. Dubugras talked about how hard of a choice that was to make.

Brex’s business rebounded faster than the company expected, however, driven in part by strong new business formation — some data here — and companies rapidly moving into the digital realm and moving to finance systems like Brex’s. 

Looking forward, Dubugras wants to expand the pool of companies that Brex can underwrite, which makes sense as that would open up its market size quite a lot. And the company is as remote as companies are now, with its CEO opening up during our chat about the pros and cons of the move. Happily for the business fintech unicorn, Dubugras said that some of the negatives of companies working more remotely haven’t been as tough as expected. 

Next up: Growth metric. Verbit, a startup that uses AI to transcribe and caption videos, raised a $60 million Series C this week led by Sapphire Ventures. I couldn’t get to the round, but the company did note in its release that it has seen 400% year-over-year revenue growth, and that its “revenue run-rate [has] grown five-fold since 2019.” Nice.

Jai Das led the round for Verbit, and, in a quirk of good timing, I’m hosting an Extra Crunch Live with him in a few weeks. (Extra Crunch sub required for that, head here if you need one. The discount code ‘EQUITY’ should still be working if it helps.)

Telos, a Virginia-based cybersecurity and identity company went public this week. It fell under our radar because there is more news than we have hands to type it up. Such is the rapid-fire news cycle of late 2020. But, to catch us both up, Telos priced midrange but with an upsized offering, valuing it around $1 billion, according to MarketWatch.

After going public, Telos shares have performed well. Cybersecurity is having one hell of a year.

Turning back to our favorite topic in the world, SaaS, ProfitWell’s Patrick Campbell dropped a grip of data on the impact of COVID-19 on the B2B SaaS market. Mostly it’s positive. There was a hit early on, but then growth seems to have accelerated. Just keep in mind the Workday example from earlier; not everyone is in software growth paradise as 2020 comes to a close.

And, finally, after Affirm released its S-1 filing, competing service Klarna decided it was a good time to drop some performance data of its own. First of all, Klarna — thanks. We like data. Second of all, just go public. Klarna said that it grew from 10 million customers in the United States to 11 million in three weeks, and that the second statistic was up 106% compared to its year-ago tally. 

Affirm, you are now required by honor to update your S-1 with even more data as an arch-nerd clapback. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Various and Sundry

Alright, that’s enough of all that. Chat to you soon, and I hope that you are safe and well and good.




A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing




After TechCrunch broke the news yesterday that Coursera was planning to file its S-1 today, the edtech company officially dropped the document Friday evening.

Coursera was last valued at $2.4 billion by the private markets, when it most recently raised a Series F round in October 2020 that was worth $130 million.

Coursera’s S-1 filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year. It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.


In 2020, Coursera saw $293.5 million in revenue. That’s a roughly 59% increase from the year prior when the company recorded $184.4 million in top line. During that same period, Coursera posted a net loss of nearly $67 million, up 46% from the previous year’s $46.7 million net deficit.

Notably the company had roughly the same non-cash, share-based compensation expenses in both years. And even if we allow the company to judge its profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis, Coursera’s losses still rose from 2019 to 2020, expanding from $26.9 million to $39.8 million.

To understand the difference between net losses and adjusted losses it’s worth unpacking the EBITDA acronym. Standing for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, EBITDA strips out some non-operating costs to give investors a possible better picture of the continuing health of a business, without getting caught up in accounting nuance. Adjusted EBITDA takes the concept one step further, also removing the non-cash cost of share-based compensation, and in an even more cheeky move, in this case also deducts “payroll tax expense related to stock-based activities” as well.

For our purposes, even when we grade Coursera’s profitability on a very polite curve it still winds up generating stiff losses. Indeed, the company’s adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenue — a way of determining profitability in contrast to revenue — barely improved from a 2019 result of -15% to -14% in 2020.

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Start Ups

Here’s Who’s Gone Public in 2021 (So Far)




Another year, another list.

In past years, we’ve mostly covered venture-backed tech and tech-ish IPOs in this perennial list of startups going public. Occasionally, a direct listing here and there would make the list, but the vast majority of companies going public were doing so through a traditional IPO. This year looks like it will be a bit different, with the increasing popularity of SPACs and new rule changes making direct listings more favorable, now that companies can raise capital through that route. 

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So, we’ve adapted our ever-updated Here’s Who’s Gone Public list to fit more with the times, and are including both traditional IPOs and other methods of going public. So far this year, that means IPOs and SPACs. 

While SPACs are going public at a more frequent pace than traditional IPO companies, we’ve included only the ones that have completed a merger with a target company and begun trading as a combined company. 

This list will be updated regularly to keep up with the robust IPO and SPAC pipeline coming up this year, so be sure to check back.

Most recently updated: March 5, 2021



IPO date: Jan. 13, 2021
IPO price: $49
IPO valuation: $11.9 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Positive

In the first venture-backed tech-ish IPO of the year, Affirm saw its stock price jump 100 percent on its first day of trading before closing out at $97.24. Affirm is  a big player in the increasingly-popular “buy now, pay later space,” which includes companies like AfterPay and Klarna. Since it went public in mid-January, the company’s stock has moved up and down, but overall its trajectory has been positive. Affirm’s stock closed at $105.55 on Feb. 18.


IPO date: Jan. 14, 2021
IPO price: $42
IPO valuation: $3 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Negative

Poshmark’s stock price doubled pretty much right out of the gate, and ended up closing out its first day of trading up 140 percent. The company, which operates a marketplace for new and second-hand clothing and accessories, reached a valuation of $3 billion with its IPO, one of the first of this year. But since Poshmark’s public market debut, its stock has fallen quite a bit. The company’s stock closed at $68.39 on Feb. 18.


IPO date: Jan. 15, 2021
IPO price: $27
IPO valuation: $11 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Positive

Gaming is all the rage as people look to stay entertained at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The market response to Playtika reflects that. Playtika’s stock price since its mid-January debut has been mostly positive. The company’s stock closed at $32.56 on Feb. 18, still above its first day of trading close of $31.62. 


IPO date: Jan. 28, 2021
IPO price: $30
IPO valuation: $15 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Positive

Qualtrics’ IPO was significant for a couple different reasons. It wasn’t a traditional venture-backed tech company going public, but one that had already been acquired. After SAP acquired the company in 2018 before Qualtrics’ planned IPO, SAP ended up spinning it out in 2021. The IPO was also significant because it ended up being the largest IPO of a Utah-based company. Qualtrics’ public debut valued the company at $15 billion, and its stock price arc has been positive since. Qualtrics’ stock closed at $44.63 on Feb.18.


IPO date: Feb. 11, 2021
IPO price: $43
IPO valuation: $8.2 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Positive

Bumble’s IPO made founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd a billionaire and the youngest woman to take a company public. It was also a big deal for Texas’ tech scene, as the dating app is a homegrown Austin company. The company raised $2.15 billion through its IPO and its stock closed 64 percent above its IPO price on its first day of trading. Overall, its post-IPO arc since then has been positive, and its stock closed at $74 on Feb. 18.

Oscar Health

IPO date: March 3, 2021
IPO price: $39
IPO valuation: $7.9 billion
Initial post-IPO arc: Negative

As of this writing, Oscar Health has been a public company for less than three days. So, its negative post-IPO arc should be taken with a grain of salt — especially because the market in general dipped at the end of its first week of trading. That said, Oscar’s public market debut wasn’t like many of the venture-backed IPOs we’ve seen recently where the stock surges right out of the gate. The company initially set a price range of between $32 and $34 before increasing it to between $36 and $38, and pricing at $39. The company closed its first day of trading at $34.80, and its stock closed at $31 on Friday, March 5.


Clover Health

First day of trading: Jan. 8, 2021
SPAC proceeds: Up to $1.2 billion
SPAC valuation: $7 billion, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal
Initial stock price arc: Negative

Clover Health was the first VC-backed company to go public via a special purpose acquisition company, with Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC, Social Capital Hedosophia V, acquiring the company. The company’s stock since the merger was completed in early January has trended negatively since it started trading, though, with its stock closing at $10.83 on Feb.18.


First day of trading: Jan. 13, 2021
SPAC valuation: $1.3 billion
Initial stock price arc: Positive.

Payment cycle management platform Billtrust went public in mid-January after merging with South Mountain Merger Corp. The company  raised $115 million in funding while private and announced plans to go public via a SPAC in the fall. Since the company’s stock started trading, its initial arc has been positive. Billtrust’s stock closed at $18.80 on Feb. 18.

Hims and Hers Health

First day of trading: Jan. 21, 2021
SPAC proceeds: $280 million
SPAC valuation: $1.6 billion, according to Forbes
Initial stock price arc: Positive

Hims and Hers Health, which initially started out as a company aimed toward men’s health issues, went public after merging with special purpose acquisition company Oaktree Acquisitions Corp. The deal was among the first major VC-backed SPAC mergers to be completed in 2021, and raised proceeds of about $280 million. Since the combined company’s stock started trading, its stock price has been trending up and closed at $19.01 on Feb. 18.

ChargePoint Holdings

First day of trading: Feb. 26, 2021
SPAC proceeds: $450 million, according to Inside EVs.
Initial stock price arc: Negative

Companies in the electric vehicle space are evidently popular targets for SPACs, and ChargePoint is among them. The company, which is based in Campbell, California, went public by merging with special purpose acquisition company Switchback Energy Acquisition Corp. Since the company completed the merger on Feb. 26 and began trading (closing at $30.83 last week), its stock has fallen a bit, closing at $26.13 on Friday, March 5.


First day of trading: Feb. 9, 2021
SPAC proceeds: Unclear
Initial stock price arc: Negative

Digital insurance platform Metromile went public by merging with blank-check company INSU Acquisition Corp. II. The company, which is backed by investors including Index Ventures and Future Fund, follows other insurtech companies like Lemonade and Root to the public market, though through a SPAC rather than a traditional IPO. The company’s stock has mostly trended down since then, closing at $10.45 on Friday, March 5.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

While 2020 wasn’t a banner year for most things, that’s also true for M&A dealmaking in cybersecurity. However, last month saw some interesting…

While shares opened at $39, they slid throughout the day to close at $34.80, down 12 percent.

The company reported about $1.45 billion in revenue in 2020, up from $994.1 million in 2019.

For many startup employees, it often seems like the only options for liquidating their shares and receiving a payout for their equity in a company is…

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Start Ups

How and when to hire your first product manager




In the world of early-stage startups, job titles are often a formality. In reality, each employee may handle a dozen responsibilities outside their job description. The choose-your-own-adventure type of work style is part of the magic of startups and often why generalists thrive here.

However, as a company progresses and the team grows, there comes a time when a founder needs to carve out dedicated roles. Of these positions, product management might be one of the most elusive — and key — roles to fill.

Product management might be one of the most elusive — and key — roles to fill.

We spoke to startup founders and operators to get their thoughts about how and when they hired their first product manager. Some of the things we talked about were:

  •  Which traits to look for.
  •  Why it’s important to define the role before you look for your best fit.
  •  Whether your new hire needs to have a technical background.
  •  The best questions to ask in an interview.
  •  How to time your first hire and avoid overhiring.

Don’t hire for the CEO of a product

Let’s start by working backward. Product managers often graduate into a CEO role or leave a company to become a founder. Like founders, talented product managers have innate leadership skills and are able to effectively and clearly communicate. Similarly, both roles require a person who is a visionary when it comes to the product and execution.

David Blake was a product manager before he became a serial edtech founder who created Degreed, Learn In, and most recently, BookClub. He says that experience helped him launch the first prototype of Degreed and attract first clients.

“The must-have skill is the ability to put the team’s best wisdom in check and inform the product decisions with users and potential clients to inform what you are building,” he said. The person “must also be able to take the team’s mission and develop and sell that narrative to users and potential clients. That is how you blaze a new trail, balance risk, while avoiding building a ‘faster horse.”

The overlapping synergies between PMs and founders is part of the reason why the role is so confusing to define and hire for. Ken Norton, former director of product at Figma who recently left to solo advise and coach product managers, says companies can start by defining what PMs are not: The CEO of the product.

“It’s about not handing off the product responsibilities to somebody,” he said. “You want the founder and the CEO to continue to be the evangelist and visionary.” Instead, the role is more about day to day “blocking and tackling.” Norton wrote a piece more than 15 years ago about how to hire a product manager, and it’s still an essential read for anyone interested in the field.

Define the role and set your expectations

Product managers help translate all the jugglers within a startup to each other; connecting the engineer with marketing, design with business development and sales with all the above. The role at its core is hard to define, but at the same time is the necessary plumbing for any startup that wants to be high-growth and ambitious.

While a successful product manager is a strong generalist, they have to have the ability to understand and humanize technical processes. The best candidates, then, have some sort of technical experience as an engineer or otherwise.

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Dan Siroker’s new startup Scribe automates Zoom note-taking




Optimizely co-founder Dan Siroker said the idea for his new startup Scribe goes back to a couple of personal experiences — and although Scribe’s first product is focused on Zoom, those experiences weren’t Zoom-related at all.

Instead, Siroker recalled starting to go deaf and then having an “epiphany” the first time he put in a hearing aid, as he recovered a sense he thought he’d lost.

“That really was the spark that got me thinking about other opportunities to augment things your body naturally fails at,” he said.

Siroker added that memory was an obvious candidate, particularly since he also has aphantasia — the inability to visualize mental images, which made it “hard to remember certain things.”

It may jog your own memory if I note that Siroker founded Optimizely with Pete Koomen in 2010, then stepped down from the CEO role in 2017, with the testing and personalization startup acquired by Episerver last year. (And now Episerver itself is rebranding as Optimizely.)

Fast-forward to the present day and Siroker is now CEO at Scribe, which is taking signups for its first product. That product integrates into Zoom meetings and transforms them into searchable, shareable transcripts.

Siroker demonstrated it for me during our Zoom call. Scribe appears in the meeting as an additional participant, recording video and audio while creating a real-time transcript. During or after the meeting, users can edit the transcript, watch or listen to the associated moment in the recording and highlight important points.

From a technological perspective, none of this feels like a huge breakthrough, but I was impressed by the seamlessness of the experience — just by adding an additional participant, I had a full recording and searchable transcript of our conversation that I could consult later, including while I was writing this story.

Scribe screenshot

Image Credits: Scribe

Although Scribe is recording the meeting, Siroker said he wants this to be more like a note-taking replacement than a tape recorder.

“Let’s say you and I were meeting and I came to that meeting with a pen and paper and I’m writing down what you’re saying,” he said. “That’s totally socially acceptable — in some ways, it’s flattering … If instead, I brought a tape recorder and plopped in front of you and hit record — you might actually have this experience — with some folks, that feels very different.”

The key, he argued, is that Scribe recordings and transcripts can be edited, and you can also turn individual components on and off at any time.

“This is not a permanent record,” he said. “This is a shared artifact that we all create as we have a meeting that — just like a Google Doc — you can go back and make changes.”

That said, it’s still possible that Scribe could record some embarrassing comments, and the recordings could eventually get meeting participants in trouble. (After all, leaked company meeting recordings have already prompted a number of news stories.) Siroker said he hopes that’s “not common,” but he also argued that it could create an increased sense of transparency and accountability if it happens occasionally.

Scribe has raised around $5 million in funding, across a round led by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and another led by First Round Capital.

Scribe screenshot

Image Credits: Scribe

Siroker told me he sees Zoom as just the “beachhead” for Scribe’s ambitions. Next up, the company will be adding support for products like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Eventually, he hopes to build a new “hive mind” for organizations, where everyone is “smarter and better” because so many of their conversations and knowledge are now searchable.

“Where we go after that really depends on where we think we can have the biggest positive impact on people’s lives,” he said. “It’s harder to make a case for personal conversations you have with a spouse but … I think if you strike the right balance between value and privacy and control, you could really get people to adopt this in a way that actually is a win-win.”

And if Scribe actually achieves its mission of helping us to record and recall information in a wide variety of contexts, could that have an impact on our natural ability to remember things?

“Yes is the answer, and I think that’s okay,” he responded. “Your brain has limited energy … Remembering the things somebody said a few weeks ago is something a computer can do amazingly. Why waste your precious brain cycles doing that?”

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