Lyft’s IPO is hot, YC demo day, two new unicorns, and what’s Boy Brow?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm took us through an IPO, a big round, 943 startup pitches, two new unicorns, and some scooter news. A very 2019 mix, really.

Up first we took a peek at the latest from the Lyft IPO saga. Recall that Lyft is beating Uber to the public markets, and we can report that it’s having a good time doing so. The popular ride-hailing company, second-place by market share in its domestic market, is oversubscribed at an already-healthy valuation. If the company will raise its price or the number of shares that it sells isn’t yet known, but early indications hint that Lyft timed its IPO well.

Next, we took a look at the recent OpenDoor round that has been long-rumored. Tipping the scales at $300 million, and valuing the home-buying-and-selling startup at $3.8 billion, the company’s latest equity event was a bit higher than expected. There are other players in its space, and the firm isn’t yet recession-tested. All the same, a Murderers’ Row of capital lined up for the latest round.

Moving on, Kate went to Y Combinator’s Demo Day and got a closer look at the accelerator’s latest batch. There were a ton of two-minute pitches, many of which sounded the same, but chances are we’ll see a few unicorns emerge from the bunch. And, interesting tidbit, some of the companies actually forwent Demo Day and raised capital before they could hit the stage!

Later, we discuss two new unicorns. This week’s unicorns had a theme and one that was new to Equity. This time, both the billion-dollar businesses mentioned on the show were founded by women. As Kate noted, there aren’t too many of those, so to see two in the same week is great.

Glossier, founded by Emily Weiss, brought in a $100 million Series D led by Sequoia Capital . The round values the beauty business at a whopping $1.2 billion, tripling the valuation it garnered with a $52 million Series C in 2018. As for Rent The Runway, a startup founded by Jen Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, it closed a $125 million round led by Franklin Templeton Investments and Bain Capital Ventures. This round values the company at $1 billion. Hyman took to Twitter to share some inspirational words on raising capital as a woman, a pregnant woman, in heels!

And finally, we took a look at a Parisian scooter tax. Mostly because Alex wanted to talk about Paris.

And that’s Equity for the week. We’ll see you soon!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

To fund Y Combinator’s top startups, VCs scoop them before Demo Day

Hundreds gathered this week at San Francisco’s Pier 48 to see the more than 200 companies in Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 cohort present their two-minute pitches. The audience of venture capitalists, who collectively manage hundreds of billions of dollars, noted their favorites. The very best investors, however, had already had their pick of the litter.

What many don’t realize about the Demo Day tradition is that pitching isn’t a requirement; in fact, some YC graduates skip out on their stage opportunity altogether. Why? Because they’ve already raised capital or are in the final stages of closing a deal.

ZeroDown, Overview.AI and Catch are among the startups in YC’s W19 batch that forwent Demo Day this week, having already pocketed venture capital. ZeroDown, a financing solution for real estate purchases in the Bay Area, raised a round upwards of $10 million at a $75 million valuation, sources tell TechCrunch. ZeroDown hasn’t responded to requests for comment, nor has its rumored lead investor: Goodwater Capital.

Without requiring a down payment, ZeroDown purchases homes outright for customers and helps them work toward ownership with monthly payments determined by their income. The business was founded by Zenefits co-founder and former chief technology officer Laks Srini, former Zenefits chief operating officer Abhijeet Dwivedi and Hari Viswanathan, a former Zenefits staff engineer.

The founders’ experience building Zenefits, despite its shortcomings, helped ZeroDown garner significant buzz ahead of Demo Day. Sources tell TechCrunch the startup had actually raised a small seed round ahead of YC from former YC president Sam Altman, who recently stepped down from the role to focus on OpenAI, an AI research organization. Altman is said to have encouraged ZeroDown to complete the respected Silicon Valley accelerator program, which, if nothing else, grants its companies a priceless network with which no other incubator or accelerator can compete.

Overview .AI’s founders’ resumes are impressive, too. Russell Nibbelink and Christopher Van Dyke were previously engineers at Salesforce and Tesla, respectively. An industrial automation startup, Overview is developing a smart camera capable of learning a machine’s routine to detect deviations, crashes or anomalies. TechCrunch hasn’t been able to get in touch with Overview’s team or pinpoint the size of its seed round, though sources confirm it skipped Demo Day because of a deal.

Catch, for its part, closed a $5.1 million seed round co-led by Khosla Ventures, NYCA Partners and Steve Jang prior to Demo Day. Instead of pitching their health insurance platform at the big event, Catch published a blog post announcing its first feature, The Catch Health Explorer.

“This is only the first glimpse of what we’re building this year,” Catch wrote in the blog post. “In a few months, we’ll be bringing end-to-end health insurance enrollment for individual plans into Catch to provide the best health insurance enrollment experience in the country.”

TechCrunch has more details on the healthtech startup’s funding, which included participation from Kleiner Perkins, the Urban Innovation Fund and the Graduate Fund.

Four more startups, Truora, Middesk, Glide and FlockJay had deals in the final stages when they walked onto the Demo Day stage, deciding to make their pitches rather than skip the big finale. Sources tell TechCrunch that renowned venture capital firm Accel invested in both Truora and Middesk, among other YC W19 graduates. Truora offers fast, reliable and affordable background checks for the Latin America market, while Middesk does due diligence for businesses to help them conduct risk and compliance assessments on customers.

Finally, Glide, which allows users to quickly and easily create well-designed mobile apps from Google Sheets pages, landed support from First Round Capital, and FlockJay, the operator an online sales academy that teaches job seekers from underrepresented backgrounds the skills and training they need to pursue a career in tech sales, secured investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Pre-Demo Day M&A

Raising ahead of Demo Day isn’t a new phenomenon. Companies, thanks to the invaluable YC network, increase their chances at raising, as well as their valuation, the moment they enroll in the accelerator. They can begin chatting with VCs when they see fit, and they’re encouraged to mingle with YC alumni, a process that can result in pre-Demo Day acquisitions.

This year, Elph, a blockchain infrastructure startup, was bought by Brex, a buzzworthy fintech unicorn that itself graduated from YC only two years ago. The deal closed just one week before Demo Day. Brex’s head of engineering, Cosmin Nicolaescu, tells TechCrunch the Elph five-person team — including co-founders Ritik Malhotra and Tanooj Luthra, who previously founded the Box-acquired startup Steem — were being eyed by several larger companies as Brex negotiated the deal.

“For me, it was important to get them before batch day because that opens the floodgates,” Nicolaescu told TechCrunch. “The reason why I really liked them is they are very entrepreneurial, which aligns with what we want to do. Each of our products is really like its own business.”

Of course, Brex offers a credit card for startups and has no plans to dabble with blockchain or cryptocurrency. The Elph team, rather, will bring their infrastructure security know-how to Brex, helping the $1.1 billion company build its next product, a credit card for large enterprises. Brex declined to disclose the terms of its acquisition.

Hunting for the best deals

Y Combinator partners Michael Seibel and Dalton Caldwell, and moderator Josh Constine, speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)

Ultimately, it’s up to startups to determine the cost at which they’ll give up equity. YC companies raise capital under the SAFE model, or a simple agreement for future equity, a form of fundraising invented by YC. Basically, an investor makes a cash investment in a YC startup, then receives company stock at a later date, typically upon a Series A or post-seed deal. YC made the switch from investing in startups on a pre-money safe basis to a post-money safe in 2018 to make cap table math easier for founders.

Michael Seibel, the chief executive officer of YC, says the accelerator works with each startup to develop a personalized fundraising plan. The businesses that raise at valuations north of $10 million, he explained, do so because of high demand.

“Each company decides on the amount of money they want to raise, the valuation they want to raise at, and when they want to start fundraising,” Seibel told TechCrunch via email. “YC is only an advisor and does not dictate how our companies operate. The vast majority of companies complete fundraising in the 1 to 2 months after Demo Day. According to our data, there is little correlation between the companies who are most in demand on Demo Day and ones who go on to become extremely successful. Our advice to founders is not to over optimize the fundraising process.”

Though Seibel says the majority raise in the months following Demo Day, it seems the very best investors know to be proactive about reviewing and investing in the batch before the big event.

Khosla Ventures, like other top VC firms, meets with YC companies as early as possible, partner Kristina Simmons tells TechCrunch, even scheduling interviews with companies in the period between when a startup is accepted to YC to before they actually begin the program. Another Khosla partner, Evan Moore, echoed Seibel’s statement, claiming there isn’t a correlation between the future unicorns and those that raise capital ahead of Demo Day. Moore is a co-founder of DoorDash, a YC graduate now worth $7.1 billion. DoorDash closed its first round of capital in the weeks following Demo Day.

“I think a lot of the activity before demo day is driven by investor FOMO,” Moore wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “I’ve had investors ask me how to get into a company without even knowing what the company does! I mostly see this as a side effect of a good thing: YC has helped tip the scale toward founders by creating an environment where investors compete. This dynamic isn’t what many investors are used to, so every batch some complain about valuations and how easy the founders have it, but making it easier for ambitious entrepreneurs to get funding and pursue their vision is a good thing for the economy.”

This year, given the number of recent changes at YC — namely the size of its latest batch — there was added pressure on the accelerator to showcase its best group yet. And while some did tell TechCrunch they were especially impressed with the lineup, others indeed expressed frustration with valuations.

Many YC startups are fundraising at valuations at or higher than $10 million. For context, that’s actually perfectly in line with the median seed-stage valuation in 2018. According to PitchBook, U.S. startups raised seed rounds at a median post-valuation of $10 million last year; so far this year, companies are raising seed rounds at a slightly higher post-valuation of $11 million. With that said, many of the startups in YC’s cohorts are not as mature as the average seed-stage company. Per PitchBook, a company can be several years of age before it secures its seed round.

Nonetheless, pricey deals can come as a disappointment to the seed investors who find themselves at YC every year but because their reputations aren’t as lofty as say, Accel, aren’t able to book pre-Demo Day meetings with YC’s top of class.

The question is who is Y Combinator serving? And the answer is founders, not investors. YC is under no obligation to serve up deals of a certain valuation nor is it responsible for which investors gain access to its best companies at what time. After all, startups are raking in larger and larger rounds, earlier in their lifespans; shouldn’t YC, a microcosm for the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, advise their startups to charge the best investors the going rate?

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Robotics process automation startup UiPath raising $400M at more than $7B valuation

UiPath, a robotics process automation platform targeting IT businesses, is raising more than $400 million in Series D funding from venture capital investors at a valuation north of $7 billion, sources have confirmed to TechCrunch following a report from Business Insider.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment.

UiPath, founded in 2005, has raised $409 million to date, meaning the new round of capital will double the total capital invested in the startup, as well as its valuation. Its $225 million Series C, raised just six months ago, valued the business at $3 billion, according to PitchBook. UiPath is backed by top-tier investors CapitalG and Sequoia Capital, which co-led its Series C, as well as Accel, Credo Ventures and Earlybird Venture Capital, among others.

The latest funding round is being led by a public institutional investor.

UiPath develops automated software workflows meant to facilitate the tedious, everyday tasks within business operations. RPA is probably a misnomer. It’s not necessarily a robot in the way we think of it today. It’s more like a highly sophisticated macro recorder or workflow automation tool, letting a computer handle a series of highly repeatable activities in a common workflow, like accounts payable.

For example, the process could start by scanning a check, then use OCR to read the payer and the amount, add that information to an Excel spreadsheet and send an email to a human to confirm it has been done. Humans still have a role, especially in processing exceptions, but it provides a way to bring a level of automation to legacy systems, which might not otherwise benefit from more modern tooling.

The company began raising private capital in 2015 and has since experienced rapid growth of its valuation and annual recurring revenue (ARR). UiPath garnered a $1.1 billion valuation with its Series B in March 2018, more than doubled it with its Series C and is again seeing a 2x increase in value with this latest round. This is a result of its swelling ARR.

The company says it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue in less than two years. With its Series C, it counted 1,800 enterprise customers and was adding six new customers a day. Sources tell TechCrunch that UiPath did 180 million in ARR last year and is on track to do $450 million in ARR in 2019.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Amify raises its first venture round on a promise: to boost revenue for third party sellers on Amazon

Small businesses have a complicated relationship with Amazon . While they fear the company because they have no control over it, Amazon’s platform is also a great way to reach shoppers, particularly small businesses that rise to the top of its results pages.

Amify, a nine-year-old, Alexandria, Va.-based company, says it can get them there, and investors are buying its pitch. As founder and CEO Ethan McAfee tells us, the 60-person company just raised $5.8 million in Series A funding — its first outside round — led by Mercury Fund, with participation from Dundee Venture Capital, CincyTech, SaaS Venture Capital and Capital One cofounder Nigel Morris.

It all started, McAfee says, with a shoestring operation run out of his suburban townhouse.

As a T. Rowe Price analyst straight out of college, McAfee went on to spend 11 years “doing the investment thing” before deciding that instead of investing in companies, he wanted to start his own. It was 2010 at the time, and Amazon was just beginning its evolution from a place to buy books and CDs into the everything store that it has become. At first, McAfee started selling pickleball paddles at the site from his home, before eventually adding various other items. When he’d established that “we’d gotten really good at it,” it occurred to him that he should sell what he’d learned about how to connect with shoppers on the platform, which was growing more crowded by the day.

Fast forward to today, and McAfee says Amify now works with a long line of customers, from brands you might not recognize to household names like Fender guitars and Brooks, the century-old maker of running shoes, all of which pay Amify a percentage of their revenue in exchange for its services.

What these include, says McAfee, is help with product pages (“10 great pictures versus one can increase sales”), advice on what not to sell (“drones are the worst”), management of sponsored ad campaigns, and a big assist with inventory. To wit, customers of Amify send their goods to the startup when they arrive by container ship from China, for example. Amify — which uses warehouses in Las Vegas and Cincinnati —  then sends the the goods on to one of Amazon’s warehouses so that if there is a return, Amazon sends the item back to Amify to deal with it and not the customer. (McAfee says most returns are donated or destroyed.)

It would seemingly get expensive for the companies, which already pay Amazon a 15 percent commission on their sales and up to 30 percent when orders are shipped through its Fulfilled by Amazon program. McAfee says the increase in sales that Amify is able to generate more than helps defray the cost.

Certainly, it’s an interesting proposition, which explains why Amify is hardly alone in chasing it. In addition to many small players trying to insert themselves into the big business of working with third party sellers – –  more than one million of which now make up more than 50 percent of Amazon’s total sales  — Amify’s more established competitors include Netrush and etailz.

McAfee doesn’t mind the other players, though. “It’s a $500 billion market,” he offers. In short, there’s enough to go around.

At least, there’s enough to go around for now. According to a new CNBC report, Amazon is aggressively blocking money-losing products from advertising on its site and telling brand owners that if Amazon can’t sell their products to customers at a profit, it won’t allow them to pay to promote the items.

Asked if he worries about Amazon banishing companies like his or otherwise putting pressure on them, McAfee say he doesn’t. Though he admits to having “had problems with Amazon” owing in part to its “many moving pieces,” he notes the company’s overarching objective is to make customers happy, an objective the two companies share and that Amify proves every day, he insists. Consider, he says, “With Amazon, you have to speak their lingo. You can spend hours on the phone with them to correct mistakes. But we can do it better than someone trying to figure it out for the first time,” which can presumably save both Amazon, and Amify’s customers, time and money.

Amify can also provide something to its stable of clients that Amazon does not, which is customer data and insights. Though Amify doesn’t offer the service today, McAfee says there may well come a time when it helps customers understand in a granular way what’s selling, what’s not, and why.

The new funding should help. On Amify’s own shopping list, says McAfee: a CTO.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Starbucks will anchor the new $400 million food-focused Valor Siren Ventures fund

Starbucks is serving up a steaming hot $100 million cash commitment to anchor a new food-focused fund in partnership with the consumer and tech-focused focused private equity firm Valor Equity Partners.

The behemoth of burnt-coffee said that its commitment to the Valor Siren Ventures fund is an attempt to focus on “new ideas and technologies that are relevant to customers, inspiring to partners (employees), and meaningful to Starbucks business.”

The Starbucks announcement was short on details, except for a general statement that it would focus on investments in companies developing technologies, products and solutions related to food or retail.

As a company, Starbucks has been incredibly innovative — rolling out new tech-enabled services to customers. The company has one of the most popular mobile payment services, is dabbling with cryptocurrency payments, and has a robust on-demand delivery service through UberEats.

Meanwhile, Valor has a long history of investing in both technology and consumer food businesses. Thee firm as investments in companies that run the gamut from SpaceX, Tesla, and Addepar to food services companies and restaurant chains like WowBao, Fooda, and Eatsa.

With its commitment Starbucks joins a growing number of food and beverage companies that are embracing venture capital. Kelloggs, Tyson Foods, General Mills all have affiliated venture funds and even Chipotle is starting an accelerator program.

“We believe that innovative ideas are fuel for the future, and we continue to build on this heritage inside our company across beverage, experiential retail, and our digital flywheel,” said Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, in a statement. “At the same time, and with an eye toward accelerating our innovation agenda, we are inspired by, and want to support the creative, entrepreneurial businesses of tomorrow with whom we may explore commercial relationships down the road. This new partnership with Valor presents exciting opportunities, not only for these startups, but also for Starbucks, as we build an enduring company for decades to come.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source