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Venture firms rush to find ways to support Black founders and investors

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As protests against police brutality and economic manifestations of systemic racism in the U.S. continue, venture capital firms are joining the chorus of technology industry advocates lending their support to the cause.

For the past three days, technology company executives and the investors who backed them have issued statements of support for the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Firms like Benchmark, Sequoia, Bessemer, Eniac Ventures, Work-Bench and SaaSTR Fund founder Jason Lemkin all tweeted in support of the cause and offered to take steps to improve the lack of representation in their industry.

But some Black entrepreneurs and investors are questioning the motivations of these firms, given the weight of evidence that shows inaction in the face of historic inequality in the technology and venture capital industry.

“The way to find, hire and fund black people in the tech world is the same as finding, hiring and funding any other group. You build relationships with people in that group, you seek out thought leaders from the community and learn from them, you tell your hiring and investing teams that there’s a hole in the fund’s expertise stack and you fill it. It’s not about tokenizing one person or donating to a one time effort or writing it off as a pipeline problem,” wrote Sarah Kunst, the founding managing partner of Cleo Capital, in a text to TechCrunch. “It’s using the embarrassment of skills and resources these funds have to learn, build relationships and deploy capital.”

Entrepreneurs and investors say steps from investors must boil down to two main actions: hire the people and wire the investment.

In a Medium post today, the New York-based investment firm Work-Bench detailed steps it would take to make sure it is encouraging Black entrepreneurs and investors.

In addition to financial commitments to organizations, including the Equal Justice Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Color of Change, the firm is instituting new steps to ensure that its own operations also work to promote Black entrepreneurs and investors.

The firm detailed a number of other steps it will take “if there is interest,” including collating a public database of Black founders working on enterprise startups for other enterprise VCs, and working with HBCUvc and other Black VC firms.

Some firms are taking steps to go even further — including the creation of dedicated pre-seed investment funds that would focus exclusively on companies coming from historically Black colleges and universities.

These initiatives are in their early stages, and investors are not ready to disclose too much about the steps that they’re taking, but they extend far beyond dedicated funding. Investors are also looking to step up their recruitment at HBCUs and land-grant universities to focus more on diverse candidates and doing internal training from within portfolio companies to create a new generation of minority entrepreneurs through more extensive and robust entrepreneur-in-residence programs.

Firms are also looking to create benchmarks and internal surveys to monitor their progress and find out where their firms and portfolios are falling short. This could start with firms choosing to publish how many Black founders they have invested in to date, with annual follow-ups, for the spirit of transparency and accountability.

The data is accessible to investors internally, though few firms publish such statistics publicly. Initialized Capital disclosed on Monday that 7% of companies in its most recent fund are led by Black founders.

Problems with diversity extend into the funds themselves, as Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton wrote in a direct message to us.

“Investors have been reaching out to me left and right asking what they can do. It’s not complicated: Invest in Black founders. You don’t have to invest in ALL Black founders. You can keep your thesis and yes even your so-called ‘standards’ and find multiple Black founders to invest in,” Hamilton wrote. “If you need help, I have 130 portfolio companies + I can introduce you to a curated list of a dozen Black investors to hire. My email address is ARLAN@BackstageCapital.com. No more excuses.”

Internal recruitment efforts for VC partners can be inherently biased. Think of it as a domino effect: if LPs only fund white GPs, then white GPs can stick to their preexisting networks for looking for other partners to bring on. Unless non-diverse VC firms break their existing networks, either through recruiters or underrepresented founders, this effect will continue.

‘And I do hope to write the check’

Partners at venture firms are committing to doing more themselves to support the community of Black entrepreneurs. 

I don’t do that many investments a year (I am a slow+quiet investor), but please email me your decks and pitches,” wrote Jason Lemkin on Twitter. “I will try to only meet/Zoom with black founders in June.”

Nihal Mehta, the founder of New York-based investment firm Eniac Ventures, announced on Twitter that he was taking no-charge appointments with Black founders via Superpeer, which sells one-to-one video calls. Within 24 hours of Mehta’s tweet, he was booked for the summer: 103 meetings with Black founders. 

“This means there is incredible demand, a large gap that needs to be filled, between Black founders and the tech community at large,” Mehta said. 

The entire Eniac Ventures team is also opening up free Superpeer consulting slots dedicated to chatting with and investing in Black founders. 

Ha Nguyen, a partner at Spero Ventures, is hosting a Black founders breakfast and AMA lunch on Friday. Nguyen also offered Black founders to reach out when they need help with the fundraising process, pitch deck and intros for their next check. “And I do hope to write the check,” Nguyen wrote in a LinkedIn post

Hustle Fund’s Elizabeth Yin encouraged founders to continue sending the firm cold inbound pitches, noting that 15% of Hustle Fund’s portfolio companies came from outside their network.

Yin also noted that the firm is working to build informal deal flow relationships with founders who have diverse networks, like the firm’s venture associate intern, Jasmin Johnson, who works with Score 3, or Lolita Taub, former principal at Backstage, and her investor-matching program. 

Taub has a Google form in her pinned tweet where she reviews startup submissions. Then, if the company is a fit for her she will reach out, and if the company is a fit for other investors (Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital, Hustle Fund, WXR Fund), Taub will connect the two parties. 

Taub has a decorated past in tech and venture capital, so her network is broad, but her investing program itself is simple. It is reproducible for any super connector out there in the Valley with a diverse network. 

‘The talent has always been there’

As the investment community rushes to voice its support for the Black community, Black investors and startup founders question their motives.

That it has taken a week of protesting and the deaths of countless Black men and women at the hands of police to wake up investors to the problems that the industry — and the country at large — faces is a sign of the depth of the problem.

The Black investor-led firm Precursor released a statement on Sunday:

Investors like Marlon Nichols at MaC Venture Capital and Kobie Fuller at Upfront Ventures have made the development of a diverse group of founders a priority through their own investment activities and the creation of startups like Valence — a network for African American talent.

The data on inequality in the industry is staggering, as Nichols noted in a post earlier today:

  • Blacks are underrepresented in the executive ranks of startups by 82%
  • More than 75% of all rounds raised go to all White founding teams
  • Diverse founding and executive teams generate higher median realized multiples (RMs) on acquisitions and IPOs than all White founding and executive teams (3.3x to 2.5x and 3.3x to 2x respectively)

So, if you are truly opposed to racism and discrimination, something you can start to do immediately is stop making excuses for not investing in startups and funds led by Black men and women. Instead, make the investments, extend your networks, hire us in leadership/ decision making roles, and hold us to the same standards that you do for White led startups and venture funds.

There’s still a long way for the industry to go and plenty of ways investors can improve.

“Every top MBA program has a black student organization, every top tech company has black ERGs, go recruit from those pools to start. There are very visible funds like Ulu, Precursor, my own fund Cleo Capital who are led by black tech leaders. There are very visible investors like Chris Lyons, Ken Chenault, Adrian Fenty and Megan Maloney,” Kunst wrote.

“We are all vocal about where we spend our time finding and supporting black tech people. We speak at events like Culture Shifting Weekend and Black Women Talk Tech, we support orgs like Code2040, HBCUVC and Blck VC…. Simply put, we’ve done the work and the talent has always been there. What’s left is for larger funds to follow that lead and make a real commitment to hiring black VCs as well as funding black founders and encouraging their portfolio companies to hire black people into positions of leadership.”

The efforts announced by large venture capital firms in the last few days should broaden the access that underrepresented founders have to venture capital money and decision-makers and could lead to some checks. But calendar invites and emails will not solve racial injustice. Nor will a dedicated month of talking to Black founders solve the pattern-matching that systemically sits within venture capital.

Therefore, more robust actions are needed by the venture community, because statements are only as powerful as the checks they write and hires they make.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/06/02/diverse-startups-and-investors-matter/

Gaming

Daily Crunch: Apple Arcade expands with classic games

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Apple adds classic titles to Apple Arcade, Microsoft experiences an outage and Coinbase is going public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 2, 2021.

The big story: Apple Arcade expands with classic games

Until now, Apple’s game subscription service was limited to exclusive new titles, but today it’s introducing two new categories: App Store Greats (popular iPhone games like Monument Valley+, Fruit Ninja Classic+, Cut the Rope Remastered and Badland+) and Timeless Classics (board games and puzzle games, such as Backgammon+ and Chess Play and Learn+).

This is a major expansion to the Apple Arcade back catalog, but it’s not simply a matter of putting previously free games behind a paywall. The Arcade versions of these titles will be ad-free and without in-app purchases — you’re never paying anything beyond the $4.99 monthly subscription fee. Also, some of these games had become unavailable in their original forms due to iOS and hardware updates.

The tech giants

Microsoft outage knocks sites and services offline — Microsoft stumbled back online Thursday after an hours-long outage in the middle of the U.S. west coast working afternoon.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Coinbase to direct list on April 14th, provide financial update on April 6th — The company will trade under the ticker symbol “COIN.”

Uruguayan payments startup dLocal quadruples valuation to $5B with $150M raise — This means that the five-year-old Uruguayan company has effectively quadrupled its valuation in a matter of months.

Backflip offers an easier way to turn used electronics into cold, hard cash — The company offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics, which could be anything from iPhones to Game Boys.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How is edtech spending its extra capital? — Edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia — LatAm entrepreneurs seem to be looking to Asian tech giants for product inspiration and growth strategies.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift — Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/daily-crunch-apple-arcade-expands-with-classic-games/

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Private Equity

Three ways VC firms can construct sustainably diverse portfolios

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Venture capital has a diversity problem: Data show that Black and Latinx founders received just 2.6% of overall funding in 2020. Women-founded teams received nearly 30% less funding in 2020 than they did in 2019.

For decades, a close-knit community of brilliant but like-minded individuals built a system of pattern recognition. It produced high-growth companies with homogenous leadership teams. They called it meritocracy. Those of us who didn’t fit the profile were told, or were left to assume, that we didn’t have what it takes.

When a founder needs funding but investors don’t think they “have what it takes,” it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter how good you are and how much product-market fit you achieve, at some point “what it takes” to scale a company is money.

Until recently, the lack of diversity in the ecosystem was largely an issue to those of us directly affected by it. It wasn’t until the groundbreaking #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter movements that the lack of funding for women and minorities became both evident — and evidently problematic — to the rest of the world.

I believe that underrepresented founders are the most undervalued asset class in the U.S. today, and investors are starting to realize that diversity is not charity — it’s economic opportunity.

Just look at the data on women-founded startups, which deliver 63% higher ROI (according to First Round Capital), generate twice as much revenue for every dollar invested (according to BCG), and take one full year less time to exit (according to PitchBook & AllRaise). Founders that have it harder, but persevere, lead to stronger companies with outsized results for their investors.

The good news is that recent events jolted many into action. A flurry of pledges, micro-funds and quick investments in support of Black founders arrived in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer. Overnight, these founders were heavily courted for meetings and speaking opportunities from people and firms they didn’t have access to in the past. Some secured investments and built new relationships that will help down the line. For many, the timing was off, and they didn’t benefit materially. In the end, the frenzy quieted down, and only 3% of 2020 VC deal volume went to Black-founded companies.

Ashlee Wisdom, the co-founder and CEO of digital health platform Health in Her HUE, experienced this firsthand.

“Last summer I was overwhelmed with inbounds from investors, which felt great at first,” she said. “But I was new to venture; I didn’t know how to build a strategy around fundraising, and most of those investors were looking for companies at a later stage than mine. No one I spoke to during that time seemed to be willing to invest in my pre-seed round despite our demonstrated traction. On the positive side, I met a lot of great investors who made meaningful introductions to pre-seed and early-stage funds. And some of those later-stage investors are now watching Health In Her HUE’s progress.”

It’s too soon to tell how sustainable the progress made last year will be. But we do have evidence from prior times that small, cosmetic efforts at diversity do not result in lasting change. Just take a look at what’s happened to VC funding for women recently.

In the aftermath of #metoo, investors and corporations were also spurred to act, with some success. For a while, VC investments in women-founded companies increased slowly but steadily. But once COVID hit, and investors retreated to their closest and most trusted referral networks, VC funding for women took a huge step backward. Crunchbase data show more than 800 female-founded startups globally received a total of $4.9 billion in venture funding in 2020, through mid-December, representing a 27% decrease over the same period the prior year.

The lesson is this: Efforts at the periphery of venture capital do not make a difference in the long run. The good news is many have started taking action. To achieve systemic, long-term improvements, VC firms will need to make changes to their core system, building diversity into the primary investing process itself. Results will not be visible immediately, but they will be far more sustainable and, as the data suggest, more profitable over the lifetime of these funds. Here are three specific actions VC firms can take to achieve this:

1. Hire BIPOC and women investors

A recent PitchBook report notes that female investors are twice as likely to invest in companies with female founders and three times as likely in companies with female CEOs. And yet fewer than 10% of all VC partners are women. According to BLCK VC, more than 80% of venture firms don’t have a single Black investor on their team. That makes it less surprising that only 1 percent of venture-funded startup founders are Black.

When you hire from the same communities you want to invest in, and ensure your new hires are set up for success, you unlock dealflow, relationships, and insights into new markets and customer sets. This results in a more diverse portfolio and a stronger investment team, one that serves its entire portfolio of companies better.

2. Measure the top of your funnel

Inputs lead to outputs. VC firms should do everything they can to foster stronger relationships with underrepresented founder communities to enable more diversity at the top of the deal flow funnel.

Partner, sponsor and invest in organizations like Female Founders Alliance, SoGal Foundation, Black Women Talk Tech and more. Go out of your way to attend events, ask for introductions, schedule casual coffee meetings and meet as many founders in those networks as you can — and foster those relationships meaningfully over time. This is how you seed decades of great dealflow.

3. Invest directly in emerging fund managers

There are hundreds of new funds, many of them with less than $50 million in assets under management, with direct access to pockets of talent that you are not currently seeing. These general partners have trusting, authentic relationships with founders who might be wary of mainstream VC. If you are a larger VC fund, you should be actively investing in them. Emerging managers can act as your scouts, and, in return, you will help build the ecosystem itself.

I believe that the lack of diversity in venture capital is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for those willing to make the earliest bets. If we invest in women at the same rate that we invest in men, this could boost the global economy by up to $5 trillion. That is a huge amount of return up for grabs. A homogenous portfolio misses that opportunity.

Most investors I know are aware of the opportunity and genuinely want to do better. The more urgency they feel, the more likely they are to spin up independent initiatives to address inequities directly. While these can be helpful, they’re also not sustainable. The best way to build a sustainably diverse portfolio is to do the slow, hard work of change from the inside out.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/three-ways-vc-firms-can-construct-sustainably-diverse-portfolios/

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Techcrunch

Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach

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The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach. Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?

To answer this question, and compare security philosophies, we outlined what we’d do — side by side. One of us is a career attacker (David Wolpoff), and the other a CISO with experience securing companies in the healthcare and security spaces (Aaron Fosdick).

Don’t wait for your incident response team to take the brunt of a cyberattack on your organization.

CISO Aaron Fosdick

1. Back up your system.

A hacker’s likely going to throw some ransomware attacks at you after breaking into your mail server. So rely on your backups, configurations, etc. Back up everything you can. But back up to an instance before the breach. Design your backups with the assumption that an attacker will try to delete them. Don’t use your normal admin credentials to encrypt your backups, and make sure your admin accounts can’t delete or modify backups once they’ve been created. Your backup target should not be part of your domain.

2. Assume compromise and stop connectivity if necessary.

Identify if and where you have been compromised. Inspect your systems forensically to see if any systems are using your surface as a launch point and attempting to move laterally from there. If your Exchange server is indeed compromised, you want it off your network as soon as possible. Disable external connectivity to the internet to ensure they cannot exfiltrate any data or communicate with other systems in the network, which is how attackers move laterally.

3. Consider deploying default/deny.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/hack-takes-a-ciso-and-a-hacker-detail-how-theyd-respond-to-the-exchange-breach/

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Techcrunch

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

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When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $35 billion when it raised $750 million in its latest round.

RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.

While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.

As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.

We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.

Meet the vendors

UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.

Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/rpa-market-surges-investors-vendors-capitalize-pandemic-tech-shift/

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