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The four-year vesting schedule that the typical startup uses today is a problem waiting to happen. If one founder ends up quitting a year or two before the last cliff, they still own a large share of the cap table through many rounds to come. The departing founder might consider that fair, but the remaining founder(s) are the ones adding on the additional value — and resentment is not the only issue.
“The opportunity cost of dead equity is talent and capital,” Jake Jolis of Matrix Partners explains in a guest post for us this week. “Compensating talent and raising capital are the (only) two things you can use your startup’s equity for, and you need to do both in order for your company to grow large. If you want to build a big business, the road ahead is still long and windy, and you’re going to need every bit of help you can get. If your competitors don’t have dead equity you’re literally competing with a handicap.”
Instead, he argues that founders who are just starting out should consider doubling the vesting schedule to eight years or so. In one example he gives, a founder who leaves after two and a half years on a four-year plan could end up with 22% of the company even after a big new funding round, the creation of an employee stock option pool, and additional shares set aside for a replacement cofounder-level hire. On an eight-year plan, that would be only 11%, and there would be a lot more remaining to entice new cofounders.
The full article is on Extra Crunch, but I’m including more key parts here given the broad value:
Given the risks still ahead of the business, this level of compensation is often much more fair from a value-creation standpoint. With less dead equity on the cap table, the startup is still attractive in the eyes of VCs and well-positioned to attract a strong co-founder replacement to take the company forward. The alternative can cripple the company, and even co-founder B won’t be happy owning a larger percent of zero. While it’s better to do it when you start the company, a co-founder unit can elongate their vesting later on as well. The main requirement is that all the co-founders believe it’s in their best interest and agree to it. Most repeat founders I’ve talked to agree that four years is too short. Personally, if I started another company, I’d pick something like eight. You definitely don’t need to. You might decide four or six is better for your co-founder unit and your company.
One final thought, from my startup cofounder years. The departing cofounder should still want to see the company succeed as big as possible to maximize the value of their own shares. On the steep slope between failure and success in this business, vesting longer is a powerful way to help the company will deliver the most back to them after the hard work of the early days.
Why one successful early-stage VC firm is getting into SPACs now
SPACs are an exciting development for any type of investor, public or private, Amish Jani of FirstMark Capital tells Connie Loizos. Indeed, his firm has historically focused on writing early-stage checks, so at first it is a bit jarring to see the FirstMark Horizon Acquisition SPAC raise $360 million and head out looking for the right unicorn. But he explains it all quite well an extensive interview this week:
TC: Why SPACs right now? Is it fair to say it’s a shortcut to a hot public market, in a time when no one quite knows when the markets could shift?
AJ: There are a couple of different threads that are coming together. I think the first one is the possibility that [SPACs] work, and really well. [Our portfolio company] DraftKings [reverse-merged into a SPAC] and did a [private investment in a public equity deal]; it was a fairly complicated transaction and they used this to go public, and the stock has done incredibly well.
In parallel, [privately held companies] over the last five or six years could raise large sums of capital, and that was pushing out the timeline [to going public] fairly substantially. [Now there are] tens of billions of dollars in value sitting in the private markets and [at the same time] an opportunity to go public and build trust with public shareholders and leverage the early tailwinds of growth.
He goes on to explain why public markets are likely to stay hot for the right SPACs far into the future.
AJ: I think a bit of a misconception is this idea that most investors in the public markets want to be hot money or fast money. There are a lot of investors that are interested in being part of a company’s journey and who’ve been frustrated because they’ve been frozen out of being able to access these companies as they’ve stayed private longer. So our investors are some of are our [limited partners], but the vast majority are long-only funds, alternative investment managers and people who are really excited about technology as a long-term disrupter and want to be aligned with this next generation of iconic companies.
SaaS continues to boom with Databricks funding, Segment acquisition
Maybe Segment would have gone public sometime soon, but instead Twilio has scooped it up for $3.2 billion this week. The popular data management tool will now be a part of Twilio’s ever-expanding suite of customer communication products. Perhaps it’s another sign of a consolidation phase taking hold in the sector, after a Pre-Cambrian explosion of SaaS startups over the last decade? Alex Wilhelm dug into the financials of the deal for Extra Crunch and came away thinking that the deal was not too expensive — in fact he thinks Segment may have been able to hold out for a little more, especially considering the multiplication of Twilio’s stock price this year.
Databricks, meanwhile, has evolved from an open-source data analytics platform that struggled to make revenues to a run rate of $350 million. Per an interview that Alex did for EC with chief executive Ali Ghodsi, the factors in this growth included a shift to focus on more proprietary code, big customers and sophisticated features. It’s now aiming for an IPO next year.
And what about that IPO market, which was a bit quieter this week? Alex gives a letter grade to each of the 18 most notable tech companies that have gone public this year, and observes that most them are continuing to stay in positive territory from their initial prices.
Nigeria startup scene gets watershed exit with Paystack deal
Lagos has been building a strong local startup scene for years, and this week that translated into a win that could mark a new era for the city, country and beyond. Stripe has agreed to acquire payments provider Paystack in a deal that Ingrid Lunden hears was worth more than $200 million. With Stripe’s own aims for a massive IPO, Paystack is poised to produce ongoing returns for the company and its investors, as well as providing Nigeria with a new generation of investors, founders and highly skilled employees who are tightly interlinked with Silicon Valley and other innovation centers.
A startup hub just needs one or two of the right deals to change everything. Readers who were paying attention when Google bought YouTube almost exactly 14 years ago today will remember the ensuing surge in fundings, foundings, acquisitions and overall consumer internet industry activity that helped the Silicon Valley internet scene get back on its feet (and helped this site get on the map, too). Stripe has said it is planning more global expansion that could include additional deals like this, so more cities around the world could be getting their moments this way.
Vienna startups finding new opportunities during the pandemic
In this week’s European investor survey for Extra Crunch, Mike Butcher checks in on Vienna, Austria, which has been tallying up growth in local startup activity recently. Here’s Eva Ahr of Capital 300, which focuses on Germanic and Central Eastern European investments, regarding about the impact of the pandemic on the local markets:
Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.
Mike is also working on a Lisbon survey and we’d love to hear from any investors focused on the city and Portugal in general.
Across the week
The whole crew was back today, with Natasha and Danny and I gathered to parse over what was really a blast of news. Lots of startups are raising. Lots of VCs are raising. And some unicorns are shooting to go public. It’s a lot to get through, but we’re here to catch you up.
Here’s what we got into:
- A Media Roundup: The Juggernaut raised $2 million in a round that we found to be both cool and timely. The news of a media startup raising money was paired with rumors of an exit for email media darling Morning Brew for a price tag of up to $75 million. Undergirding each story was recent reporting concerning the revenue success that Axios is enjoying. It’s nice to report on some media news that isn’t fresh layoffs.
- A cluster of wellness startups raising capital: If you like to work out your mind and body, it was a good week of news for you. Calm is looking for new funds at a fresh, higher valuation. TechCrunch has coverage here. Coa did raise, adding $3 million to its coffers for mental health group classes. And Playbook put together $9.3 million for its fitness instructor platform.
- VCs raised lots: It’s a hot time for VCs themselves to raise money, with OpenView, Canaan, True Ventures, Lead Edge Capital, First Round and Khosla either closing rounds or announcing new fundraises.
- Also on the VC beat: Terri Burns was made an investing partner at GV.
- Finally, we got into the recent GetAround funding and turnaround story, which segued us into Airbnb’s own recovery. TechCrunch has more here.
And with that, we’re off until Monday morning. Chat soon, and stay safe.
Enterprise investor Jason Green on SPAC hopefuls versus startups bound for traditional IPOs
Jason Green has a pretty solid reputation as venture capitalists go. The enterprise-focused firm he co-founded 17 years ago, Emergence Capital, has backed Saleforce, Box and Zoom, among many other companies, and even while every firm is now investing in software-as-a-service startups, his remains a go-to for many top founders selling business products and services.
To learn more about the trends impacting Green’s slice of the investing universe, we talked with him late last week about everything from SPACs to valuations to how the firm differentiates itself from the many rivals with which it’s now competing. Below are some outtakes edited lightly for length.
TC: What do you make of the assessment that SPACs are for companies that aren’t generating enough revenue to go public the traditional route?
JG: Well, yeah, it’ll be really interesting. This has been quite a year for SPACs, right? I can’t remember the number, but it’s been something like $50 billion of capital raised this year in SPACs, and all of those have to put that money to work within the next 12 to 18 months or they give it back. So there’s this incredible pent-up demand to find opportunities for those SPACs to convert into companies. And the companies that are at the top of the charts, the ones that are the high-growth and profitable companies, will probably do a traditional IPO, I would imagine.
[SPAC candidates are] going to be companies that are growing fast enough to be attractive as a potential public company but not top of the charts. I think [sponsors are] going to target companies that are probably either growing slightly slower than the top-quartile public companies but slightly profitable, or companies that are growing faster but still burning a lot of cash and might actually scare all the traditional IPO investors.
TC: Are you having conversations with CEOs about whether or not they should pursue this avenue?
JG: We just started having those conversations now. There are several companies in the portfolio that will probably be public companies in the next year or two, so it’s definitely an alternative to consider. I would say there’s nothing impending I see in the portfolio. With most entrepreneurs, there’s a little bit of this dream of going public the traditional way, where SPACs tend to be a little bit less exciting from that perspective. So for a company that maybe is thinking about another private round before going public, it’s like a private-plus round. I would say it’s a tweener, so the companies that are considering it are probably ones that are not quite ready to go public yet.
TC: A lot of the SPAC fundraising has seemed like a reaction to uncertainty around when the public window might close. With the election behind us, do you think there’s less uncertainty?
JG: I don’t think risk and uncertainty has decreased since the election. There’s still uncertainty right now politically. The pandemic has reemerged in a significant way, even though we have some really good announcements recently regarding vaccines or potential vaccines. So there’s just a lot of potential directions things could head in.
It’s an environment generally where the public markets tend to gravitate more toward higher-quality opportunities, so fewer companies but higher quality, and that’s where SPACs could play a role. In the first half of next year, I could easily see SPACs being the more likely go-to-market for a public company, then the latter half of next year, once the vaccines have kicked in and people feel like we’re returning to somewhat normal, I could see the traditional IPO coming back.
TC: When we sat down in person about a year ago, you said Emergence looks at maybe 1,000 deals a year, does deep due diligence on 25 and funds just a handful or so of these startups every year. How has that changed in 2020?
JG: I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.
I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe have ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.
TC: For founders trying to understand your thinking, what’s interesting to you right now?
JG: We tend to focus on three major themes at any one time as a firm, and one we’ve termed ‘coaching networks.’ This is this intersection between AI and machine learning and human interaction. Companies like [the sales engagement platform] SalesLoft or [the knowledge management system] Guru or Drishti [which sells video analytics for manual factory assembly lines] fall into this category.
The second [theme] is going deep into more specific industry verticals. Veeva was the best example of this early on with with healthcare and life sciences, but we now have one called p44 in the transportation space that’s doing incredibly well. Doximity is in the healthcare space and going deep like a LinkedIn for physicians, with some remote health capabilities. And then [lending company] Blend, which is in the financial services area. These companies are taking cloud software and just going deep into the most important problems of their industries.
The third theme [centers around] remote work. Zoom, which has obviously has been [among our] best investments is almost a platform, just like Salesforce became a platform after many years. We just funded a company called ClassEDU, which is a Zoom-specific offering for the education market. Snowflake is becoming a platform. So another opportunity is is not just trying to come up with another collaboration tool, but really going deep into a specific use case or vertical.
TC: What’s a company you’ve missed in recent years and were any lessons learned?
JG: We have our hall of shame. [Laughs.] I do think it’s dangerous to assume that things would have turned out the same if if we had been investors in the company. I believe the kinds of investors you put around the table make a difference in terms of the outcome of your company, so I try to not beat myself up too much on the missed opportunities because maybe they found a better fit or a better investor for them to be successful.
But Rob Bernshteyn of Coupa is one where I knew Rob from SuccessFactors [where he was a product marketing VP], and I just always respected and liked him. And we were always chasing it on valuation. And I think I think we probably turned it down at an $80 million or $100 million valuation [and it’s valued at] $20 billion today. That can keep you up at night.
Sometimes, in the moment, there are some risks and concerns about the business and there are other people who are willing to be more aggressive and so you lose out on some of those opportunities. The beautiful thing about our business is that it’s not a zero-sum game.
Remote-controlled delivery carts are now working for the local Los Angeles grocer
Robots are no longer the high-tech tools reserved for university labs, e-commerce giants and buzzy Silicon Valley startups. The local grocer now has access too.
Tortoise, the one-year-old Silicon Valley startup known for its remote repositioning electric scooters, has taken its tech and adapted it to delivery carts. The company recently partnered with online grocery platform Self Point to provide neighborhood stores and specialty brand shops with electric carts that — with help from remote teleoperators — deliver goods to local consumers.
The companies have launched the product offering in Los Angeles with three customers. Each customer, which includes Kosher Express, has two to three carts that can be used to make deliveries up to a three-mile radius from the store. Unlike the network models used by some autonomous sidewalk delivery companies, grocery stores lease the delivery carts and are responsible for storage, charging and packing it up with goods that their customers have ordered.
The initial Self Point/Tortoise launch is small. But it has the makings of expanding far beyond Los Angeles. More importantly for Tortoise, it’s a validation of the company’s larger vision to make remote repositioning a horizontal business with numerous applications.
Tortoise started by equipping electric scooters with cameras, electronics and firmware that allow teleoperators in distant locales to drive the micromobility devices to a rider or deliver it back to its proper parking spot. Now, it has taken that same hardware and software and used it to build its own delivery cart.
Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko has said the company’s remote repositioning kit can be used for security and cleaning bots as well as electric wheelchairs and other accessibility devices. He’s even fielded inquiries from farmers interested in using remote repositioning scooters to monitor crops.
“From a practical point of view we’re not trying to not be everywhere overnight, but there’s really no technological constraint for us,” Shevelenko said in a recent interview.
The emergence of COVID-19 and its effects on consumer behavior prompted Tortoise to home in on delivery carts as its second act.
“We kind of quickly realized that we’re living in a once-in-a-generation change in consumer behavior where now everything is online and people are expecting it to be delivered same day,” Shevelenko said. Tortoise was able to go from the first renderings in May to a delivery cart launch by the fourth quarter because of its ability to repurpose its hardware, software and workforce.
The company still remains bullish on its initial application in micromobility. Earlier this year, Tortoise, GoX and and tech incubator Curiosity Labs launched a six-month pilot in Peachtree Corners, Georgia that allows riders to use an app to hail a scooter. The scooters are outfitted with Tortoise’s tech. Once riders hail the scooter, a Tortoise employee hundreds of miles away remote controls the scooter to the user. After riders complete trips, the scooters drive themselves back to a safe parking spot. From there, GoX employees charge and sanitize the scooters and then mark them with a sticker that indicates they have been properly cleaned.
While partnership with Self Point is Tortoise’s next big project, Shevelenko was quick to note that the company is only focused on one slice of the on-demand delivery pie.
“Low speeds and hot foods don’t work too well,” he said. Startups such as Kiwibot and Starship have smaller robots that focus on that market, Shevelenko added. Tortoise’s delivery carts were designed specifically to hold large amounts of groceries, alcohol and other goods.
“We saw kind of a big opening in grocery,” he said, adding that relying on remote operators and its kit is a low-cost combination that can be used today while automated technology continues to develop. “We’re doing for last-mile delivery what globalized call centers did for customer support.”
Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public
In the wake of insurtech unicorn Root’s IPO, it felt safe to say that the big transactions for the insurance technology startup space were done for the year.
After all, 2020 had been a big one for the broad category, with insurtech marketplaces raising lots, rental insurance startup Lemonade going public, Root itself debuting even more recently on the back of its automotive insurance business, a big round to help Hippo keep building its homeowners company and more.
So let’s talk about why Metromile might be plying the public markets, and why Hippo may have have decided to pick up more cash. Hint: The reasons are related.
A market hungry for growth
The Lemonade IPO was a key moment for neoinsurance startups, a key part of the broader insurtech space. When the rental insurance provider went public, it helped set the tone for public exit valuations for companies of its type: fast-growing insurance companies with slick consumer brands, improving economics, a tech twist and stiff losses.
For the Roots and Metromiles and Hippos, it was an important moment.
So, when Lemonade raised its IPO range, and then traded sharply higher after its debut, it boded well for its private comps. Not that rental insurance and auto insurance or homeowners insurance are the same thing. They very most decidedly are not, but Lemonade’s IPO demonstrated that private investors were correct to bet generally on the collection of startups, because when they reached IPO-scale, they had something that public investors wanted.
Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition
Slack shares are up just under 25% at the moment, according to Yahoo Finance data. Slack is worth $36.95 per share as of the time of writing, valuing it at around $20.8 billion. The well-known former unicorn has been worth as little as $15.10 per share inside the last year and worth as much as $40.07.
Inversely, shares of Salesforce are trading lower on the news, falling around 3.5% as of the time of writing. Investors in the San Francisco-based SaaS pioneer were either unimpressed at the combination idea, or perhaps worried about the price that would be required to bring the 2019 IPO into their fold.
Why Salesforce, a massive software company with a strong position in the CRM market, and aspirations of becoming an even larger platform player, would want to buy Slack is not immediately clear though there are possible benefits. This includes the possibility of cross-selling the two companies products’ into each others customer bases, possibly unlocking growth for both parties. Slack has wide marketshare inside of fast-growing startups, for example, while Salesforce’s products roost inside a host of megacorps.
TechCrunch reached out to Salesforce, Slack and Slack’s CEO for comment on the deal’s possibility. We’ll update this post with whatever we get.
While Salesforce bought Quip for $750 million in 2016, which gave it a kind of document sharing and collaboration, Salesforce Chatter has been the only social tool in the company’s arsenal. Buying Slack would give the CRM giant solid enterprise chat footing and likely a lot of synergy among customers and tooling.
But Slack has always been more than a mere chat client. It enables companies to embed workflows, and this would fit well in the Salesforce family of products, which spans sales, service, marketing and more. It would allow companies to work both inside and outside the Salesforce ecosystem, building smooth and integrated workflows. While it can theoretically do that now, if the two were combined, you can be sure the integrations would be much tighter.
What’s more, Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it would give Salesforce a sticky revenue source, something they are constantly searching for to keep their revenue engine rumbling along. “Slack could be a good candidate to strengthen its platform, but more importantly account for more usage and ‘stickiness’ of Salesforce products — as collaboration not only matters for CRM, but also for the vendor’s growing work.com platform,” Mueller said. He added that it would be a way to stick it to former-friend-turned-foe Microsoft.
That’s because Slack has come under withering fire from Microsoft in recent quarters, as the Redmond-based software giant poured resources into its competing Teams service. Teams challenges Slack’s chat tooling and Zoom’s video features and has seen huge customer growth in recent quarters.
Finding Slack a corporate home amongst the larger tech players could ensure that Microsoft doesn’t grind it under the bulk of its enterprise software sales leviathan. And Salesforce, a sometimes Microsoft ally, would not mind adding the faster-growing Slack to its own expanding software income.
The question at this juncture comes down to price. Slack investors won’t want to sell for less than a good premium on the pre-pop per-share price, which now feels rather dated.
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