Extra Crunch roundup: antitrust jitters, SPAC odyssey, white-hot IPOs, more

Some time ago, I gave up on the idea of finding a thread that connects each story in the weekly Extra Crunch roundup; there are no unified theories of technology news.

The stories that left the deepest impression were related to two news pegs that dominated the week — Visa and Plaid calling off their $5.3 billion acquisition agreement, and sizzling-hot IPOs for Affirm and Poshmark.

Watching Plaid and Visa sing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in harmony after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block their deal wasn’t shocking. But I was surprised to find myself editing an interview Alex Wilhelm conducted with with Plaid CEO Zach Perret the next day in which the executive said growing the company on its own is “once again” the correct strategy.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


In an analysis for Extra Crunch, Managing Editor Danny Crichton suggested that federal regulators’ new interest in antitrust enforcement will affect valuations going forward. For example, Procter & Gamble and women’s beauty D2C brand Billie also called off their planned merger last week after the Federal Trade Commission raised objections in December.

Given the FTC’s moves last year to prevent Billie and Harry’s from being acquired, “it seems clear that U.S. antitrust authorities want broad competition for consumers in household goods,” Danny concluded, and I suspect that applies to Plaid as well.

In December, C3.ai, Doordash and Airbnb burst into the public markets to much acclaim. This week, used clothing marketplace Poshmark saw a 140% pop in its first day of trading and consumer-financing company Affirm “priced its IPO above its raised range at $49 per share,” reported Alex.

In a post titled A theory about the current IPO market, he identified eight key ingredients for brewing a debut with a big first-day pop, which includes “exist in a climate of near-zero interest rates” and “keep companies private longer.” Truly, words to live by!

Come back next week for more coverage of the public markets in The Exchange, an interview with Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg where he shares his plans for taking the company public, a comprehensive post that will unpack the regulatory hurdles facing D2C consumer brands, and much more.

If you live in the U.S., enjoy your MLK Day holiday weekend, and wherever you are: thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

After spending much of the week covering 2021’s frothy IPO market, Alex Wilhelm devoted this morning’s column to studying the OKR-focused software sector.

Measuring objectives and key results are core to every enterprise, perhaps more so these days since knowledge workers began working remotely in greater numbers last year.

A sign of the times: this week, enterprise orchestration SaaS platform Gtmhub announced that it raised a $30 million Series B.

To get a sense of how large the TAM is for OKR, Alex reached out to several companies and asked them to share new and historical growth metrics:

  • Gthmhub
  • Perdoo
  • WorkBoard
  • Ally.io
  • Koan
  • WeekDone

“Some OKR-focused startups didn’t get back to us, and some leaders wanted to share the best stuff off the record, which we grant at times for candor amongst startup executives,” he wrote.

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

For our latest investor survey, Matt Burns interviewed five VCs who actively fund consumer electronics startups:

  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
  • Dayna Grayson, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner, SOSV
  • Bilal Zuberi, partner, Lux Capital
  • Rob Coneybeer, managing director, Shasta Ventures

“Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder,” says Matt, noting that the pandemic fueled wide interest in fitness startups like Mirror, Peloton and Tonal.

Bonus: many VCs listed the founders, investors and companies that are taking the lead in consumer hardware innovation.

A theory about the current IPO market

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

If you’re looking for insight into “why everything feels so damn silly this year” in the public markets, a post Alex wrote Thursday afternoon might offer some perspective.

As someone who pays close attention to late-stage venture markets, he’s identified eight factors that are pushing debuts for unicorns like Affirm and Poshmark into the stratosphere.

TL;DR? “Lots of demand, little supply, boom goes the price.”

Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups

Clothing resale marketplace Poshmark closed up more than 140% on its first trading day yesterday.

In Thursday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex noted that Poshmark boosted its valuation by selling 6.6 million shares at its IPO price, scooping up $277.2 million in the process.

Poshmark’s surge in trading is good news for its employees and stockholders, but it reflects poorly on “the venture-focused money people who we suppose know what they are talking about when it comes to equity in private companies,” he says.

Will startup valuations change given rising antitrust concerns?

GettyImages 926051128

financial stock market graph on technology abstract background represent risk of investment

This week, Visa announced it would drop its planned acquisition of Plaid after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to block it last fall.

Last week, Procter & Gamble called off its purchase of Billie, a women’s beauty products startup — in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block that deal, too.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government took an arm’s-length approach to enforcing antitrust laws, but the tide has turned, says Managing Editor Danny Crichton.

Going forward, “antitrust won’t kill acquisitions in general, but it could prevent the buyers with the highest reserve prices from entering the fray.”

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I’m a grad student currently working on F-1 STEM OPT. The company I work for has indicated it will sponsor me for an H-1B visa this year.

I hear the random H-1B lottery will be replaced with a new system that selects H-1B candidates based on their salaries.

How will this new process work?

— Positive in Palo Alto

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

A homemade chocolate cookie with a bite and crumbs on a white background

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After news broke that Visa’s $5.3 billion purchase of API startup Plaid fell apart, Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller interviewed several investors to get their reactions:

  • Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO, SkyflowAPI
  • Amy Cheetham, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Sheel Mohnot, co-founder, Better Tomorrow Ventures
  • Lucas Timberlake, partner, Fintech Ventures
  • Nico Berardi, founder and general partner, ANIMO Ventures
  • Allen Miller, VC, Oak HC/FT
  • Sri Muppidi, VC, Sierra Ventures
  • Christian Lassonde, VC, Impression Ventures

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm interviewed Plaid CEO Zach Perret after the Visa acquisition was called off to learn more about his mindset and the company’s short-term plans.

Perret, who noted that the last few years have been a “roller coaster,” said the Visa deal was the right decision at the time, but going it alone is “once again” Plaid’s best way forward.

2021: A SPAC odyssey

In Tuesday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm took a closer look at blank-check offerings for digital asset marketplace Bakkt and personal finance platform SoFi.

To create a detailed analysis of the investor presentations for both offerings, he tried to answer two questions:

  1. Are special purpose acquisition companies a path to public markets for “potentially-promising companies that lacked obvious, near-term growth stories?”
  2. Given the number of unicorns and the limited number of companies that can IPO at any given time, “maybe SPACS would help close the liquidity gap?”

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Growth-stage startups in search of funding have a new option: “flexible VC” investors.

An amalgam of revenue-based investment and traditional VC, investors who fall into this category let entrepreneurs “access immediate risk capital while preserving exit, growth trajectory and ownership optionality.”

In a comprehensive explainer, fund managers David Teten and Jamie Finney present different investment structures so founders can get a clear sense of how flexible VC compares to other venture capital models. In a follow-up post, they share a list of a dozen active investors who offer funding via these non-traditional routes.

These 5 VCs have high hopes for cannabis in 2021

Marijuana leaf on a yellow background.

Image Credits: Anton Petrus (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For some consumers, “cannabis has always been essential,” writes Matt Burns, but once local governments allowed dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic, it signaled a shift in the regulatory environment, and investors took notice.

Matt asked five VCs about where they think the industry is heading in 2021 and what advice they’re offering their portfolio companies:


By Walter Thompson

GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6B valuation

GitLab has confirmed with TechCrunch that it raised a $195 million secondary round on a $6 billion valuation. CNBC broke the story earlier today.

The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.

“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.

While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.

The next logical step would be appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.

“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.

He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model, enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long term goals.”

GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but it’s entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September, he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.

“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.

The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.


By Ron Miller

Harness snags $85M Series C on $1.7B valuation as revenue grows 3x

Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.

Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.

Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.

Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.

“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.

In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.

Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.

The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.

As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.

It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.

He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a ‘work from anywhere’ company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.


By Ron Miller

‘Brandtech’ company You and Mr. Jones adds $60M to its Series B

You & Mr. Jones announced today that it has added $60 million in new funding from Merian Chrysalis, bringing the Series B round announced in December to a total of $260 million.

The round values the company at $1.36 billion, post-money.

You & Mr. Jones takes its name from CEO David Jones, who founded the company in 2015. After having served as the CEO of ad giant Havas, Jones told me that his goal in starting what he called “a brandtech group” was to provide marketers with something that neither traditional agencies nor technology companies could give them.

“At that moment, the choices were to go work with an agency group, which is great at brand and marketing, but they don’t understanding tech, or with a tech company, which will only ever recommend their platform and don’t have the same [brand and marketing] expertise,” he said.

So You & Mr. Jones has built its own technology platform to help marketers with their digital, mobile and e-commerce needs, while also investing in companies like Pinterest and Niantic. And it makes acquisitions — last year, for example, it bought influencer marketing company Collectively.

You & Mr. Jones has grown to 3,000 employees, and its clients include Unilever, Accenture, Google, Adidas, Marriott and Microsoft. In fact, Jones said that as of the third quarter of 2020, its net revenue had grown 27% year-over-year.

That’s particularly impressive given the impact of the pandemic on ad spending, but Jones said that’s one of the key distinctions between digital advertising and the broader brandtech category, with he said has grown steadily, even during the pandemic, and which also sets the company apart from agencies that are “digital and tech in press release only.”

“We’re not an ad agency, we’ll never acquire agencies,” he said. “We have the technology platform, process and people to deliver all of your end-to-end, always-on content — social, digital, e-commerce, community management.”

In addition to the funding, company is announcing that it has hired Paulette Forte, who was previously senior director of human services at the NBA, as its first chief people officer.

“The Brandtech category didn’t even exist before You & Mr Jones was established,” Forte said in a statement. “The company became a true industry disruptor in short order, and growth has been swift. In order to keep up with the momentum, it’s critical to have systems in place that help talent develop their skills, encourage diversity and creativity, and find pathways to improving workflow. I am excited to join the leadership team to drive this crucial work forward.”


By Anthony Ha

Slim.ai announces $6.6M seed to build container DevOps platform

We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.

Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.

Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.

At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.

He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.

Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.

Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.

They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.


By Ron Miller

Extra Crunch roundup: 2 VC surveys, Tesla’s melt up, The Roblox Gambit, more

This has been quite a week.

Instead of walking backward through the last few days of chaos and uncertainty, here are three good things that happened:

  • Google employee Sara Robinson combined her interest in machine learning and baking to create AI-generated hybrid treats.
  • A breakthrough could make water desalination 30%-40% more effective.
  • Bianca Smith will become the first Black woman to coach a professional baseball team.

Despite many distractions in our first full week of the new year, we published a full slate of stories exploring different aspects of entrepreneurship, fundraising and investing.

We’ve already gotten feedback on this overview of subscription pricing models, and a look back at 2020 funding rounds and exits among Israel’s security startups was aimed at our new members who live and work there, along with international investors who are seeking new opportunities.

Plus, don’t miss our first investor surveys of 2021: one by Lucas Matney on social gaming, and another by Mike Butcher that gathered responses from Portugal-based investors on a wide variety of topics.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week. I hope we can all look forward to a nice, boring weekend with no breaking news alerts.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


The Roblox Gambit

In February 2020, gaming platform Roblox was valued at $4 billion, but after announcing a $520 million Series H this week, it’s now worth $29.5 billion.

“Sure, you could argue that Roblox enjoyed an epic 2020, thanks in part to COVID-19,” writes Alex Wilhelm this morning. “That helped its valuation. But there’s a lot of space between $4 billion and $29.5 billion.”

Alex suggests that Roblox’s decision to delay its IPO and raise an enormous Series H was a grandmaster move that could influence how other unicorns will take themselves to market. “A big thanks to the gaming company for running this experiment for us.”

I asked him what inspired the headline; like most good ideas, it came to him while he was trying to get to sleep.

“I think that I had “The Queen’s Gambit somewhere in my head, so that formed the root of a little joke with myself. Roblox is making a strategic wager on method of going public. So, ‘gambit’ seems to fit!”

8 investors discuss social gaming’s biggest opportunities

girl playing games on desktop computer

Image Credits: Erik Von Weber (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For our first investor survey of the year, Lucas Matney interviewed eight VCs who invest in massively multiplayer online games to discuss 2021 trends and opportunities:

  • Hope Cochran, Madrona Venture Group
  • Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group
  • Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Sakib Dadi, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Jacob Mullins, Shasta Ventures
  • Alice Lloyd George, Rogue
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, NFX

Having moved far beyond shooters and sims, platforms like Twitch, Discord and Fortnite are “where culture is created,” said Daniel Li of Madrona.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses Twitch to explain policy positions, major musicians regularly perform in-game concerts on Fortnite and in-game purchases generated tens of billions last year.

“Gaming is a unique combination of science and art, left and right brain,” said Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX. “It’s never just science (i.e., software and data), which is why many investors find it hard.”

How to convert customers with subscription pricing

Giant hand and magnet picking up office and workers

Image Credits: C.J. Burton (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Startups that lack insight into their sales funnel have high churn, low conversion rates and an inability to adapt or leverage changes in customer behavior.

If you’re hoping to convert and retain customers, “reinforcing your value proposition should play a big part in every level of your customer funnel,” says Joe Procopio, founder of Teaching Startup.

What is up with Tesla’s value?

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives at the Axel Springer Award ceremony in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Tesla Inc. will be added to the S&P 500 Index in one shot on Dec. 21, a move that will ripple through the entire market as money managers adjust their portfolios to make room for shares of the $538 billion company. Photographer: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm followed up his regular Friday column with another story that tries to find a well-grounded rationale for Tesla’s sky-high valuation of approximately $822 billion.

Meanwhile, GM just unveiled a new logo and tagline.

As ever, I learned something new while editing: A “melt up” occurs when investors start clamoring for a particular company because of acute FOMO (the fear of missing out).

Delivering 500,000 cars in 2020 was “impressive,” says Alex, who also acknowledged the company’s ability to turn GAAP profits, but “pride cometh before the fall, as does a melt up, I think.”

Note: This story has Alex’s original headline, but I told him I would replace the featured image with a photo of someone who had very “richest man in the world” face.

How Segment redesigned its core systems to solve an existential scaling crisis

Abstract glowing grid and particles

Image Credits: piranka / Getty Images

On Tuesday, enterprise reporter Ron Miller covered a major engineering project at customer data platform Segment called “Centrifuge.”

“Its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost,” but as Ron reports, it was also meant to solve “an existential crisis for the young business,” which needed a more resilient platform.

Dear Sophie: Banging my head against the wall understanding the US immigration system

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

Now that the U.S. has a new president coming in whose policies are more welcoming to immigrants, I am considering coming to the U.S. to expand my company after COVID-19. However, I’m struggling with the morass of information online that has bits and pieces of visa types and processes.

Can you please share an overview of the U.S. immigration system and how it works so I can get the big picture and understand what I’m navigating?

— Resilient in Romania

The first “Dear Sophie” column of each month is available on TechCrunch without a paywall.

Revenue-based financing: The next step for private equity and early-stage investment

Shot of a group of people holding plants growing out of soil

Image Credits: Hiraman (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For founders who aren’t interested in angel investment or seeking validation from a VC, revenue-based investing is growing in popularity.

To gain a deeper understanding of the U.S. RBI landscape, we published an industry report on Wednesday that studied data from 134 companies, 57 funds and 32 investment firms before breaking out “specific verticals and business models … and the typical profile of companies that access this form of capital.”

Lisbon’s startup scene rises as Portugal gears up to be a European tech tiger

Man using laptop at 25th of April Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal

Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Mike Butcher continues his series of European investor surveys with his latest dispatch from Lisbon, where a nascent startup ecosystem may get a Brexit boost.

Here are the Portugal-based VCs he interviewed:

  • Cristina Fonseca, partner, Indico Capital Partners
  • Pedro Ribeiro Santos, partner, Armilar Venture Partners
  • Tocha, partner, Olisipo Way
  • Adão Oliveira, investment manager, Portugal Ventures
  • Alexandre Barbosa, partner, Faber
  • António Miguel, partner, Mustard Seed MAZE
  • Jaime Parodi Bardón, partner, impACT NOW Capital
  • Stephan Morais, partner, Indico Capital Partners
  • Gavin Goldblatt, managing partner, Portugal Gateway

How late-stage edtech companies are thinking about tutoring marketplaces

Life Rings flying out beneath storm clouds are a metaphor for rescue, help and aid.

Image Credits: John Lund (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

How do you scale online tutoring, particularly when demand exceeds the supply of human instructors?

This month, Chegg is replacing its seven-year-old marketplace that paired students with tutors with a live chatbot.

A spokesperson said the move will “dramatically differentiate our offerings from our competitors and better service students,” but Natasha Mascarenhas identified two challenges to edtech automation.

“A chatbot won’t work for a student with special needs or someone who needs to be handheld a bit more,” she says. “Second, speed tutoring can only work for a specific set of subjects.”

Decrypted: How bad was the US Capitol breach for cybersecurity?

Image Credits: Treedeo (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

While I watched insurrectionists invade and vandalize the U.S. Capitol on live TV, I noticed that staffers evacuated so quickly, some hadn’t had time to shut down their computers.

Looters even made off with a laptop from Senator Jeff Merkley’s office, but according to security reporter Zack Whittaker, the damages to infosec wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Even so, “the breach will likely present a major task for Congress’ IT departments, which will have to figure out what’s been stolen and what security risks could still pose a threat to the Capitol’s network.”

Extra Crunch’s top 10 stories of 2020

On New Year’s Eve, I made a list of the 10 “best” Extra Crunch stories from the previous 12 months.

My methodology was personal: From hundreds of posts, these were the 10 I found most useful, which is my key metric for business journalism.

Some readers are skeptical about paywalls, but without being boastful, Extra Crunch is a premium product, just like Netflix or Disney+. I know, we’re not as entertaining as a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II or a space western about a bounty hunter. But, speaking as someone who’s worked at several startups, Extra Crunch stories contain actionable information you can use to build a company and/or look smart in meetings — and that’s worth something.


By Walter Thompson

F5 snags Volterra multi-cloud management startup for $500M

F5, the applications networking company announced today that it is acquiring Volterra, a multi-cloud management startup for $500 million. That breaks down to $440 million in cash and $60 million in deferred and unvested incentive compensation.

Volterra emerged in 2019 with a $50 million investment from multiple sources including Khosla Ventures and Mayfield along with strategic investors like M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Samsung Ventures. As the company described it to me at the time of the funding:

Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.

The solution is designed to provide a single way to view security, operations and management components.

F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees Volterra’s edge solution integrating across its product line. “With Volterra, we advance our Adaptive Applications vision with an Edge 2.0 platform that solves the complex multi-cloud reality enterprise customers confront. Our platform will create a SaaS solution that solves our customers’ biggest pain points,” he said in a statement.

Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, says the need for this solution only accelerated during 2020 when companies were shifting rapidly to the cloud due to the pandemic. “When we started Volterra, multi-cloud and edge were still buzzwords and venture funding was still searching for tangible use cases. Fast forward three years and COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape — it has accelerated digitization of physical experiences and moved more of our day-to-day activities online. This is causing massive spikes in global Internet traffic while creating new attack vectors that impact the security and availability of our increasing set of daily apps,” he wrote.

He sees Volterra’s capabilities fitting in well with the F5 family of products to help solve these issues. While F5 had a quiet 2020 on the M&A front, today’s purchase comes on top of a couple of major acquisitions in 2019 including Shape Security for $1 billion and NGINX for $670 million.

The deal has been approved by both companies boards, and is expected to close before the end of March subject to regulatory approvals.


By Ron Miller

RedHat is acquiring container security company StackRox

RedHat today announced that it’s acquiring container security startup StackRox . The companies did not share the purchase price.

RedHat, which is perhaps best known for its enterprise Linux products has been making the shift to the cloud in recent years. IBM purchased the company in 2018 for a hefty $34 billion and has been leveraging that acquisition as part of a shift to a hybrid cloud strategy under CEO Arvind Krishna.

The acquisition fits nicely with RedHat OpenShift, its container platform, but the company says it will continue to support StackRox usage on other platforms including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. This approach is consistent with IBM’s strategy of supporting multi-cloud, hybrid environments.

In fact, Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier sees the two companies working together well. “Red Hat adds StackRox’s Kubernetes-native capabilities to OpenShift’s layered security approach, furthering our mission to bring product-ready open innovation to every organization across the open hybrid cloud across IT footprints,” he said in a statement.

CEO Kamal Shah, writing in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, explained that the company made a bet a couple of years ago on Kubernetes and it has paid off. “Over two and half years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on Kubernetes and pivoted our entire product to be Kubernetes-native. While this seems obvious today; it wasn’t so then. Fast forward to 2020 and Kubernetes has emerged as the de facto operating system for cloud-native applications and hybrid cloud environments,” Shah wrote.

Shah sees the purchase as a way to expand the company and the road map more quickly using the resources of Red Hat (and IBM), a typical argument from CEOs of smaller acquired companies. But the trick is always finding a way to stay relevant inside such a large organization.

StackRox’s acquisition is part of some consolidation we have been seeing in the Kubernetes space in general and the security space more specifically. That includes Palo Alto Networks acquiring competitor TwistLock for $410 million in 2019. Another competitor, Aqua Security, which has raised $130 million, remains independent.

StackRox was founded in 2014 and raised over $65 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Menlo Ventures, Redpoint and Sequoia Capital. The deal is expected to close this quarter subject to normal regulatory scrutiny.


By Ron Miller

Lacework lands $525M investment as revenue grows 300%

As the pandemic took hold in 2020, companies accelerated their move to cloud services. Lacework, the cloud security startup, was in the right place at the right time as customers looked for ways to secure their cloud native workloads. The company reported that revenue grew 300% year over year for the second straight year.

It was rewarded for that kind of performance with a $525 million Series D today. It did not share an exact valuation, only saying that it exceeded $1 billion, which you would expect on such a hefty investment. Sutter Hill and Altimeter Capital led the round with help from D1, Coatue, Dragoneer Investment Group, Liberty Global Ventures, Snowflake Ventures and Tiger Capital. The company has now raised close to $600 million.

Lacework CEO Dan Hubbard says one of the reasons for such widespread interest from investors is the breadth of the company’s security solution. “We enable companies to build securely in the cloud, and we span across multiple different categories of markets, which enable the customers to do that,” he said.

He says that encompasses a range of services including configuration and compliance, security for infrastructure as code, build time and runtime vulnerability scanning and runtime security for cloud native environments like Kubernetes and containers.

As the company has grown revenue, it has been adding employees quickly. It started the year with 92 employees and closed with over 200 with plans to double that by the end of this year. As he looks at hiring, Hubbard is aware of the need to build a diverse organization, but acknowledges that tech in general hasn’t done a great job so far.

He says they are working with the various teams inside the company to try and change that, while also working to support outside organizations that are helping educate under represented groups to get the skills they need and then building from that. “If you can help solve the problem at an earlier stage, then I think you’ve got a bigger opportunity [to have a base of people to hire] there,” he said.

The company was originally nurtured inside Sutter Hill and is built on top of the Snowflake platform. It reports that $20 million of today’s total comes from Snowflake’s new venture arm, which is putting some money into an early partner.

“We were an alpha Snowflake customer, and they were an alpha customer of ours. Our platform is built on top of the Snowflake data cloud and their new venture arm has also joined the round with an investment to further strengthen the partnership there,” Hubbard said.

As for Sutter Hill, investor Mike Speiser sees Lacework as one of his firm’s critical investments. “[Much] like Snowflake at a similar point in its evolution, Lacework is growing revenue at over 300% per year making Lacework one of Sutter Hill Ventures’ most important and promising portfolio companies,” he said in a statement.


By Ron Miller

Chronosphere nabs $43M Series B to expand cloud native monitoring tool

Chronosphere, the scalable cloud native monitoring tool launched in 2019 by two former Uber engineers, announced a $43.4 million Series B today. The company also announced that their service was generally available starting today.

Greylock, Lux Capital and venture capitalist Lee Fixel, all of whom participated in the startup’s $11 million Series A in 2019, led the round with participation from new investor General Atlantic. The company has raised $54.4 million.

The two founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, created the open source M3 monitoring project while they were working at Uber, and left in 2019 to launch Chronosphere, a startup based on that project. As Mao told me at the time of the A round, the company wanted to simplify the management of running the open source project:

“M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,” Mao said.

He said that the company spent most of last year iterating the product and working with beta customers, adding that they certainly benefited from building the commercial service on top of the open source project.

“I think we’re lucky that we have the foundation already from the open source project, but we really wanted to focus a lot on building a product on top of that technology and really have this product be differentiated, so that was most of the focus of 2020 for us,” he said.

Mao points out that he and Skillington weren’t looking for this new round of funding as they still had money left from the A round, but the company’s previous investors approached them and they decided to strike to add additional money to the balance sheet, which would help grow the company, attract employees and help reassure customers they had plenty of capital to continue building the product and the company.

As the company has developed over the last year, it has been adding employees at a rapid clip, growing from 13 at the time of the A round in 2019 to 50 today with plans to double that by the end of next year. Mao says the founders have been thinking about how to build a diverse company from its early days.

“So […] beginning last year we were making sure we were hiring the right leaders, and the right recruiting team who also care about diversity, then following that we made company-wide goals and targets for both gender and ethnic diversity, and then [we have been] holding ourselves accountable on these particular goals and tracking against them,” Mao said.

The company has been spread out from the beginning, even before COVID, with offices in Seattle, New York and Lithuania, and that has helped in terms of having a broader base to recruit from. Mao wants to remain mostly remote whenever it’s possible to return to the office, but maintain hubs on each coast where employees can meet and see each other in person.

With the product generally available today, the company will look to expand its customer base, and with the open source project to drive interest, they have a proven way to attract new customers to the commercial product.


By Ron Miller

OneTrust nabs $300M Series C on $5.1B valuation to expand privacy platform

OneTrust, the 4-year old privacy platform startup from the folks who brought you AirWatch (which was acquired by VMWare for $1.5B in 2014), announced a $300 million Series C on an impressive $5.1 billion valuation today.

The company has attracted considerable attention from investors in a remarkably short time. It came out of the box with a $200 million Series A on a $1.3 billion valuation in July 2019. Those are not typical A round numbers, but this has never been a typical startup. The Series B was more of the same — $210 million on a $2.7 billion valuation this past February.

That brings us to today’s Series C. Consider that the company has almost doubled its valuation again, and has raised $710 million in a mere 18 months, some of it during a pandemic. TCV led today’s round joining existing investors Insight Partners and Coatue.

So what are they doing to attract all this cash? In a world where privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA are already in play with others are in the works in the U.S. and around the world, companies need to be sure they are compliant with local laws wherever they operate. That’s where OneTrust comes in.

“We help companies ensure that they can be trusted, and that they make sure that they’re compliant to all laws around privacy, trust and risk,” OneTrust Chairman Alan Dabbiere told me.

That involves a suite of products that the company has already built or acquired, moving very quickly to offer a privacy platform to cover all aspects of a customer’s privacy requirements including privacy management, discovery, third-party risk assessment, risk management, ethics and compliance and consent management.

The company has already attracted 7500 customers to the platform — and is adding1000 additional customers per quarter. Dabbiere says that the products are helping them be compliant without adding a lot of friction to the building or buying process. “The goal is that we don’t slow the process down, we speed it up. And there’s a new philosophy called privacy by design,” he said. That means building privacy transparency into products, while making sure they are compliant with all of the legal and regulatory requirements.

The startup hasn’t been shy about using its investments to buy pieces of the platform, having made five acquisitions already in just four years since it was founded. It already has 1500 employees and plans to add around 900 more in 2021.

As they build this workforce, Dabbiere says being based in a highly diverse city like Atlanta has helped in terms of building a diverse group of employees. “By finding the best employees and doing it in an area like Atlanta, we are finding the diversity comes naturally,” he said, adding, “We are thoughtful about it.” CEO Kabir Barday, also launched a diversity, equity and inclusion council internally this past summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement happening in the Atlanta community and around the country.

OneTrust had relied heavily on trade shows before the pandemic hit. In fact, Dabbiere says that they attended as many as 700 a year. When that avenue closed as the pandemic hit, they initially lowered their revenue guidance, but as they moved to digital channels along with their customers, they found that revenue didn’t drop as they expected.

He says that OneTrust has money in the bank from its prior investments, but they had reasons for taking on more cash now anyway. “The number one reason for doing this was the currency of our stock. We needed to revalue it for employees, for acquisitions, and the next steps of our growth,” he said.


By Ron Miller

UIPath files confidential IPO paperwork with SEC

UIPath, the robotic process automation startup that has been growing like gangbusters, filed confidential paperwork with the SEC today ahead of a potential IPO.

UiPath, Inc. today announced that it has submitted a draft registration statement on a confidential basis to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) for a proposed public offering of its Class A common stock. The number of shares of Class A common stock to be sold and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined. UiPath intends to commence the public offering following completion of the SEC review process, subject to market and other conditions,” the company said in a statement.

The company has raised over $1.2 billion from investors like Accel, CapitalG, Sequoia and others. Its biggest raise was $568 million led by Coatue on an impressive $7 billion valuation in April 2019. It raised another $225 million led by Alkeon Capital last July when its valuation soared to $10.2 billion.

At the time of the July raise, CEO and co-founder Daniel Dines did not shy away from the idea of an IPO, telling me:

“We’re evaluating the market conditions and I wouldn’t say this to be vague, but we haven’t chosen a day that says on this day we’re going public. We’re really in the mindset that says we should be prepared when the market is ready, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s in the next 12-18 months,” he said.

This definitely falls within that window. RPA helps companies take highly repetitive manual tasks and automate them. So for example, it could pull a number from an invoice, fill in a number in spreadsheet and send an email to accounts payable, all without a human touching it.

It is a technology that has great appeal right now because it enables companies to take advantage of automation without ripping and replacing their legacy systems. While the company has raised a ton of money, and seen its valuation take off, it will be interesting to see if it will get the same positive reception as companies like Airbnb, C3.ai and Snowflake.


By Ron Miller

BigID keeps rolling with $70M Series D on $1B valuation

BigID has been on the investment fast track, raising $94 million over three rounds that started in January 2018. Today, that investment train kept rolling as the company announced a $70 million Series D on a valuation of $1 billion.

Salesforce Ventures and Tiger Global co-led the round with participation from existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners and Boldstart Ventures. The company has raised almost $165 million in just over two years.

BigID is attracting this kind of investment by building a security and privacy platform. When I first spoke to CEO and co-founder Dimitri Sirota in 2018, he was developing a data discovery product aimed at helping companies coping with GDPR find the most sensitive data, but since then the startup has greatly expanded the vision and the mission.

“We started shifting I think when we spoke back in September from being this kind of best of breed data discovery privacy to being a platform anchored in data intelligence through our kind of unique approach to discovery and insight,” he said.

That includes the ability for BigID and third parties to build applications on top of the platform they have built, something that might have attracted investor Salesforce Ventures. Salesforce was the first cloud company to offer the ability for third parties to build applications on its platform and sell them in a marketplace. Sirota says that so far their marketplace includes just apps built by BigID, but the plan is to expand it to third party developers in 2021.

While he wasn’t ready to talk about specific revenue growth, he said he expects a material uplift in revenue for this year, and he believes that his investors are looking at the vast market potential here.

He has 235 employees today with plans to boost it to 300 next year. While he stopped hiring for a time in Q2 this year as the pandemic took hold, he says that he never had to resort to layoffs. As he continues hiring in 2021, he is looking at diversity at all levels from the makeup of his board to the executive level to the general staff.

He says that the ability to use the early investments to expand internationally has given them the opportunity to build a more diverse workforce. “We have staff around the world and we did very early […] so we do have diversity within our broader company. But clearly not enough when it came to the board of directors and the executives. So we realized that, and we are trying to change that,” he said.

As for this round, Sirota says like his previous rounds in this cycle he wasn’t necessarily. looking for additional money, but with the pandemic economy still precarious, he took it to keep building out the BigID platform. “We actually have not purposely gone out to raise money since our seed. Every round we’ve done has been preemptive. So it’s been fairly easy,” he told me. In fact, he reports that he now has five years of runway and a much more fully developed platform. He is aiming to accelerate sales and marketing in 2021.

The company’s previous rounds included $14 million Series A in January 2018, a $30 million B in June that year and a $50 million C in Sept 2019.


By Ron Miller

New Relic acquires Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs

Two months ago, Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs launched into general availability and announced a $9.15 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark, with participation from GV. Today, the company is announcing its acquisition by New Relic, the publicly traded monitoring and observability platform.

The Pixie Labs brand and product will remain in place and allow New Relic to extend its platform to the edge. From the outset, the Pixie Labs team designed the service to focus on providing observability for cloud-native workloads running on Kubernetes clusters. And while most similar tools focus on operators and IT teams, Pixie set out to build a tool that developers would want to use. Using eBPF, a relatively new way to extend the Linux kernel, the Pixie platform can collect data right at the source and without the need for an agent.

At the core of the Pixie developer experience are what the company calls “Pixie scripts.” These allow developers to write their debugging workflows, though the company also provides its own set of these and anybody in the community can contribute and share them as well. The idea here is to capture a lot of the informal knowledge around how to best debug a given service.

“We’re super excited to bring these companies together because we share a mission to make observability ubiquitous through simplicity,” Bill Staples, New Relic’s Chief Product Officer, told me. “[…] According to IDC, there are 28 million developers in the world. And yet only a fraction of them really practice observability today. We believe it should be easier for every developer to take a data-driven approach to building software and Kubernetes is really the heart of where developers are going to build software.”

It’s worth noting that New Relic already had a solution for monitoring Kubernetes clusters. Pixie, however, will allow it to go significantly deeper into this space. “Pixie goes much, much further in terms of offering on-the-edge, live debugging use cases, the ability to run those Pixie scripts. So it’s an extension on top of the cloud-based monitoring solution we offer today,” Staples said.

The plan is to build integrations into New Relic into Pixie’s platform and to integrate Pixie use cases with New Relic One as well.

Currently, about 300 teams use the Pixie platform. These range from small startups to large enterprises and as Staples and Asgar noted, there was already a substantial overlap between the two customer bases.

As for why he decided to sell, Pixie co-founder (and former Google AI CEO Zain Asgar told me that it was all about accelerating Pixie’s vision.

“We started Pixie to create this magical developer experience that really allows us to redefine how application developers monitor, secure and manage their applications,” Asgar said. “One of the cool things is when we actually met the team at New Relic and we got together with Bill and [New Relic founder and CEO] Lou [Cirne], we realized that there was almost a complete alignment around this vision […], and by joining forces with New Relic, we can actually accelerate this entire process.”

New Relic has recently done a lot of work on open-sourcing various parts of its platform, including its agents, data exporters and some of its tooling. Pixie, too, will now open-source its core tools. Open-sourcing the service was always on the company’s roadmap, but the acquisition now allows it to push this timeline forward.

“We’ll be taking Pixie and making it available to the community through open source, as well as continuing to build out the commercial enterprise-grade offering for it that extends the New Relic one platform,” Staples explained. Asgar added that it’ll take the company a little while to release the code, though.

“The same fundamental quality that got us so excited about Lew as an EIR in 2007, got us excited about Zain and Ishan in 2017 — absolutely brilliant engineers, who know how to build products developers love,” Bessemer Ventures General Partner Eric Vishria told me. “New Relic has always captured developer delight. For all its power, Kubernetes completely upends the monitoring paradigm we’ve lived with for decades.  Pixie brings the same — easy to use, quick time to value, no-nonsense approach to the Kubernetes world as New Relic brought to APM.  It is a match made in heaven.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Arthur.ai snags $15M Series A to grow machine learning monitoring tool

At a time when more companies are building machine learning models, Arthur.ai wants to help by ensuring the model accuracy doesn’t begin slipping over time, thereby losing its ability to precisely measure what it was supposed to. As demand for this type of tool has increased this year, in spite of the pandemic, the startup announced a $15 million Series A today.

The investment was led by Index Ventures with help from new comers Acrew and Plexo Capital along with previous investors Homebrew, AME Ventures and Work-Bench.The round comes almost exactly a year after its $3.3 million seed round.

As CEO and co-founder Adam Wenchel explains, data scientists build and test machine learning models in the lab under ideal conditions, but as these models are put into production, the performance can begin to deteriorate under real world scrutiny. Arthur.AI is designed to root out when that happens.

Even as COVID has wreaked havoc throughout much of this year, the company has grown revenue 300% in the last six months smack dab in the middle of all that. “Over the course of 2020, we have begun to open up more and talk to [more] customers. And so we are starting to get some really nice initial customer traction, both in traditional enterprises as well as digital tech companies,” Wenchel told me. With 15 customers, the company is finding that the solution is resonating with companies.

It’s interesting to note that AWS announced a similar tool yesterday at re:Invent called SageMaker Clarify, but Wenchel sees this as more of a validation of what his startup has been trying to do, rather than an existential threat. “I think it helps create awareness, and because this is our 100% focus, our tools go well beyond what the major cloud providers provide,” he said.

Investor Mike Volpi from Index certainly sees the value proposition of this company. “One of the most critical aspects of the AI stack is in the area of performance monitoring and risk mitigation. Simply put, is the AI system behaving like it’s supposed to?,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

When we spoke a year ago, the company had 8 employees. Today it has 17 and it expects to double again by the end of next year. Wenchel says that as a company whose products looks for different types of bias, it’s especially important to have a diverse workforce. He says that starts with having a diverse investment team and board makeup, which he has been able to achieve, and goes from there.

“We’ve sponsored and work with groups that focus on both general sort of coding for different underrepresented groups as well as specifically AI, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do. And actually I think when we can get together for in person events again, we will really go out there and support great organizations like AI for All and Black Girls Code,” he said. He believes that by working with these groups, it will give the startup a pipeline to underrepresented groups, which they can draw upon for hiring as the needs arise.

Wenchel says that when he can go back to the office, he wants to bring employees back, at least for part of the week for certain kinds of work that will benefit from being in the same space.


By Ron Miller