Invest early and stand by your bets. Don’t buy logos or chase unicorns. That’s the Accel philosophy. At 35 years old, it has served them well, bagging the firm dozens of high-profile exits, including nine IPOs and 12 acquisitions in the last four years.
Now, sources confirm to TechCrunch, the respected venture capital firm has nabbed $2.525 billion — its largest pool of capital yet — for three new funds: $525 million for its fourteenth early-stage fund, $1.5 billion for its fifth growth fund and $500 million for its second Leaders Fund, or a dedicated pool of capital meant to help the firm strengthen its positions on particularly competitive bets.
Accel, which operates offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, London and Bengaluru, is hot off the heels of a big exit. Its portfolio company HotelTonight, in which it was the very first institutional investor, is selling to Airbnb in what is the home-sharing company’s largest acquisition yet. The deal is said to be worth roughly $465 million, or just above the $463 million valuation the on-demand hotel booking application garnered with a $37 million Series E in 2017.
The firm can thank Brian O’Malley, now a general partner at Forerunner Ventures, for introducing Accel to HotelTonight back when he was a general partner at Battery Ventures in 2011. Accel and Battery co-led HotelTonight’s Series A, and O’Malley went on to become a partner at Accel. The firm subsequently invested in HotelTonight’s Series B, C, D and E financings, holding true to its promise to stand by its bets.
Today, Accel is the largest stakeholder in HotelTonight and can expect a decent payout in the coming months. Workplace messaging platform Slack, however, is Accel’s true portfolio standout. The company, worth more than $7 billion, is expected to go public this year. In February, the San Francisco-based unicorn filedconfidentially with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to make its public market debut; whether that be via a traditional initial public offering or a direct listing, a newfangled approach to going public, is still up in the air.
Accel, at consumer technology investor Andrew Braccia’s recommendation, invested in Slack when it was still Tiny Speck, a seed-stage gaming startup that would go on to become an office necessity. When Tiny Speck pivoted to become Slack, the company’s chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield offered to pay back it’s Series A and B investors, including Accel. Braccia declined.
“The reason we invested in Tiny Speck was because we were investing in that team,” Braccia told TechCrunch in 2015. “I told Stewart, ‘if you want to continue to be an entrepreneur and build something, then I’m with you.’ ”
Now owning a roughly 20 percent stake in Slack, Braccia’s faith in Butterfield will result in a billion-dollar payday for the firm.
Some other high-profile wins for Accel include Qualtrics, which famously accepted an $8 billion acquisition offer hours before completing a Nasdaq IPO. According to Qualtrics’ IPO paperwork, Accel owned a stake worth more than $1 billion. PagerDuty, which is said to have confidentially filed in January, and CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity business that reportedly hired banks for its IPO last fall, are among Accels’ upcoming exits.
Since Accel’s 2016 fundraise got them a fresh $2 billion to invest in startups, the decades-old firm has nabbed some younger talent to help it navigate an inevitable generational transition. Shortly after that fund announcement, Accel added principals Amit Kumar and Steve Loughlin, a pair of co-founders of Accel portfolio companies CardSpring and RelateIQ, respectively. In 2018, the firm hired Maya Noeth as a principal to lead its consumer growth investments, Ethan Choi to back startups in the enterprise and consumer-subscription spaces and Cherry Miao as a vice president focused on growth-stage companies.
Its newest cohort of dealmakers — poised to become partners down the line — indicates Accel is conscious of an impending generational transition and prepared for the older investors to pass the baton to the younger folk.
Accel is among several incumbent venture funds to raise money from limited partners in the last year. Bessemer Venture Partners, one of the oldest players in the game, closed on $1.85 billion for its tenth flagship fund in October; Insight Venture Partners brought in $6.3 billion in July; Kleiner Perkins raised $600 million for its eighteenth early-stage fund in late January; and Menlo Ventures grabbed $500 million for Series B and C rounds in February. Other outfits, NEA for example, are in the process of closing up big, big funds.
At a time when nouveau venture funds are raising funds equipped with innovative investment strategies and young teams, Accel and some of its counterparts are proving old dogs can learn new tricks — or, at least, continue to lead the pack with no new tricks at all.
An experienced operator and investor, Ghaffary was previously the chief executive officer of Yelp subsidiary Eat24, as well as the co-founder and vice president of the podcast platform Stitcher.
Ghaffary joins Paul Hsiao, Gary Little and Rebecca Lynn as GPs at Canvas, which backs early-stage startups with $5 million to $20 million. The firm focuses on fintech, marketplaces, digital health and new enterprise with a portfolfio that includes text messaging platform Hustle and video security startup Owl. Ghaffary, in particular, will seek out consumer tech, marketplaces and software businesses.
“[Social Capital] just changed a lot from a traditional venture firm,” Ghaffary told TechCrunch. “I realized that where I was most excited to be was a smaller boutique firm focused on Series A and B investing.”
Ghaffary’s portfolio of investments includes Superhuman, Strava and Skip Scooters. The former Yelp executive began his VC career in 2006 as a vice president at Summit Partners before launching Stitcher in 2007.
“I did some serious soul searching at the ten-year mark of operating,” Ghaffary explained. “I said ‘how do I want the next 20 years to look and what do I really enjoy?’ What I really enjoy is meeting and helping the next generation of founders.”
Canvas closed its debut fund in 2013 on $175 million and nearly doubled the effort with a $300 million sophomore vehicle in 2016. Given that the firm fundraises every three years, one can assume Canvas will announce its third fund later this year. Canvas general partner Paul Hsiao, however, declined to comment on the firm’s fundraising activity.
“We are a really focused on building these phenomenal companies and we are happy to have someone on board with 15 years building and investing in companies,” Hsiao told TechCrunch.
Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.
Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming).
This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.
There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.
This week, we’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.
There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.
Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.
To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.
Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.
It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.
The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.
The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?
Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.
Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.
Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.
Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.
This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.
A little bird …
We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.
The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. Except in one case: autonomous trucks. That job falls to the California Highway Patrol.
In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.
There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.
The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.
Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
Deal of the week
Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.
According to newresearch from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).
Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.
Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.
Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.
There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.
In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.
“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like Fair.com and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”
The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.
“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”
The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.
The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.
Tiny but mighty micromobility
Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.
MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!
Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.
Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?
It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s The Chinese Are Comingnewsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.
“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.
Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.
The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.
Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.
And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.
China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.
On our radar
There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month. Come find me.
SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be.
2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for theSmart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here.
TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.
Self Racing Cars
The annual Self Racing Car eventwill be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.
There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share those thoughts, opinions or tips.
With an angle on a long-neglected part of the shipping industry — the short haul movement of cargo from docks to logistics centers — Dray Alliance, is launching joining a growing startup scene for logistics businesses based in Los Angeles.
With some of the nation’s largest ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Southern California regino is now fertile ground for businesses hoping to tackle what amounts to a trillion dollar industry.
Companies like Shippabo, a provider of shipping tracking and logistics for international small cargo transport, and NEXT Trucking, which handles long haul and short haul trucking, have both launched in the Los Angeles area to tackle different areas of the shipping industry. And now Dray Alliance is joining them trying to take a piece of the market transporting cargo from the docks to logistics centers.
The company has raised $3.5 million in seed funding from David Sacks’ Craft Ventures and has already signed contracts with the toy company Mattel and CMA CGM Group.
“Drayage is currently the most neglected area of the transit supply chain. The nuances of drayage create distinct challenges and opportunities that are quite different from other trucking segments such as FTL and LTL,” said Jeff Fluhr, general partner at Craft Ventures, in a statement. “Focus on drayage is what sets Dray Alliance apart. That focus, combined with deep industry expertise, technical skills, and entrepreneurial grit is why we believe this team will emerge as the leader in the sector.”
Founded by middle school friends Alfred Wen, Hank Cui, and Jason Yu, Dray Alliance leverages years of work that Yu and Wen had done as founders of their own trucking company. Cui was brought on board to start developing the technology product — which Wen says is exactly like an Uber for trucking.
Wen says the company has thousands of truckers who have signed up for the service — most of whom are now on a wait list as the company builds up supply before opening the floodgates on the demand side.
For every successful shipment, Dray Alliance takes 15% to 30% of the total cost of the shipment, which Wen acknowledged was a bit higher than the industry norm. The reason for that, he said, was because of the massive savings that shippers can realize.
Fines for late pickup on cargo can range from $100 to $1,000 per day. Working with Mattel, for instance, Dray Alliance was able to save the toy manufacturer nearly a quarter of a million dollars through its service.
“The drayage trucking industry still depends on emails and spreadsheets for its daily operations – leading to massive inefficiencies that result in lower earnings for truckers, less predictability in delivery times and 20-50% increases in the drayage trucking cost of freight deliveries for shippers. This is not in the best interest of anyone involved,” said Steve Wen, CEO of Dray Alliance. “Dray Alliance wants to bring Uber-like airport pick up efficiency to the drayage industry by providing a seamless mobile experience, more predictability in delivery time, and better economics for shippers, carriers, and truckers.”
Bassem Hamdy has been in the construction business for a long time.
He spent the last few years at the construction software business Procore, now a $3 billion company developing technology for the construction industry, and now Hamdy is ready to unveil his next act as chief executive and co-founder of Briq, a new software service for the industry.
Hamdy started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to reach its status as a construction industry unicorn. And the company has just raised $3 million in financing to fund its expansion.
“With enough secondaries you can afford to make your own decisions,” Hamdy says.
His experience in construction dates back to his earliest days. Hailing from a family of construction engineers, Hamdy describes himself as a black sheep who went into the financial services industry — but construction kept pulling him back.
Beginning in the late nineties with CMIC, which was construction enterprise resource planning, and continuing through to Procore, Hamdy has had success after success in the business, but Briq is the culmination of all of that experience, he says.
“As much as data entry helps people it’s data intelligence software that changes things,” says Hamdy.
Briq chief executive Bassem Hamdy
The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company is part of a growing number of Southern California technology startups building businesses to service large swaths of specific industries — specifically real estate and construction.
“Bassem built and helped run the most successful construction software businesses in the world. It is rare and humbling to have an opportunity to help build a company from the ground up with an industry legend,” says Tim Young, founding general partner at Eniac Ventures . “The technology Bassem and his team are building will do something the industry has never seen before: break down data silos to leverage information in real time. Bassem has built and run the most successful construction software businesses in the world, and his knowledge of the construction space and the data space is second to none.”
The company, formerly called Brickschain, uses a combination of a blockchain-based immutable ledger and machine learning tools to provide strategic insights into buildings and project developments.
Briq’s software can predict things like the success of individual projects, where demand for new projects is likely to occur and how to connect data around construction processes.
Briq has two main offerings, according to Hamdy. ProjectIQ, which monitors and manages individual projects and workflows — providing data around different vendors involved in a construction project; and MarketIQ, which provides market intelligence around where potential projects are likely to occur and which projects will be met with the most demand and success.
Joining Hamdy in the creation of Briq is Ron Goldschmidt, an experienced developer of quantitative-based trading strategies for several businesses. Hamdy, a former Wall Streeter himself, has long realized the power of data in the construction business. And with the new tools at his disposal — including the blockchain-based ledger system that forms the backbone of Briq’s project management software, Hamdy thinks he has developed the next big evolution in technology for the industry.
Briq already counts Webcore, a major contractor and developer, as one of its clients, along with Kobayashi, Probuild, Hunter Roberts OEG and Gartner Builders. In all, the company has contracts with nearly 12 developers and contractors.
All of the insights that Briq can provide through its immutable ledger can add up to big savings for developers. Hamdy estimates that there’s roughly $1 trillion in waste in the construction industry.
Briq relies on IBM’s Hyperledger for its blockchain backbone and through that, the company has a window into all of the decisions made on a project. That ledger forms the scaffolding on which Briq can build out its projections and models of how much a building will cost, and how could conceivably be made on a project.
“Construction and infrastructure are integral to society, but the decision-making process behind how, when, where, and why we build is no longer working,” said Hamdy, in a statement. “We aren’t just solving a construction problem, we are solving a societal problem. If we are to meet the infrastructure needs of both the developed and developing world, we must improve our decision-making and analysis around the data we have. We are thrilled to have the support of Eniac Ventures as we enter the next phase of our journey.”