Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Bohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Bohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.


By Natasha Mascarenhas

Electric gets another $7 million in funding from 01 Advisors and the Slack Fund

Electric, the platform that puts the IT department in the cloud, has today announced new funding following a continuation of its Series B earlier this year.

Dick Costolo and Adam Bain (01 Advisors) and the Slack Fund participated in the $7 million capital infusion.

01 Advisors put up the majority of the financing ($6 million) with the Slack Fund putting up a little under $1 million and other insiders covering the rest, according to Electric founder and CEO Ryan Denehy.

The funding situation with Electric is a bit unique. Electric raised a $25 million Series B round led by GGV in January of 2019. In March of this year, just before the lockdown, the company reopened the Series B at a higher valuation to make room for Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, raising an additional $14.5 million.

Then the coronavirus pandemic rocked the globe. On Monday March 9, the stock market felt it, triggering a temporary halt on trading. The following week was total financial chaos.

That’s when Adam Bain called up Denehy again. They ‘rapped out’ about the potential for Electric during this turbulent time.

“The increase in remote work is going to be dramatic,” said Denehy, relaying his conversation with Bain. “Larger companies are going to get smarter about budgeting and there is a lot of urgency for them to find ways to spend money around back office tasks like IT more efficiently. Electric becomes more appealing because, dollar for dollar, it’s a lot more efficient than building a big IT department.”

The first week of April, Bain called Denehy again, this time saying that 01 Advisors want to put in more money and be aggressive investing in Electric.

Electric is a platform designed to support the existing IT department of an organization, or in some cases, replace the outsourced IT department. Most of IT’s responsibilities focus on administration, distribution and maintenance of software programs. Electric allows IT to install its software on every corporate machine, giving the IT department a bird’s-eye view of the organization’s IT situation. It also gives IT departments more time to focus on real problem-solving and troubleshooting tasks.

From their own machine, lead IT professionals can grant and revoke permissions, assign roles and ensure all employees’ software is up to date.

Electric is also integrated with the APIs of top software programs, like Dropbox and G-suite, letting IT handle most of their day-to-day tasks through the Electric dashboard. Moreover, Electric is also integrated with Slack, letting folks within the organization flag an issue or ask a question from the platform where they spend the most time.

“The biggest challenge for Electric is keeping up with demand,” said Jason Spinell from the Slack Fund, who also mentioned that he passed on investing in Electric’s seed round and is “excited to sort of rectify [his] mistake.”

Electric also added a new self-service product that can live in the dock, letting employees look at all the software applications provided by the organization from their remote office.

“There are so many stretched IT departments now that have to do a lot more with a lot less,” said Denehy. “There are also companies who were working with an outsourced IT provider and relied on them showing up to the office a few times a week, and all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore.”

With the current ecosystem, Electric is continuing to spend on marketing but with 180 percent increase in interest from potential clients in the pipeline, according to Denehy.


By Jordan Crook

Sequoia’s Roelof Botha is more optimistic about startups today than he was a year ago

“I just think change unfairly favors the startup, the nimble small company,” says Roelof Botha.

The Sequoia partner, whose portfolio includes Unity, 23andMe, Instagram, Instacart, Xoom and YouTube, says he’s hopeful about the opportunities this pandemic has created for companies across a variety of sectors, including healthcare, cloud computing, social and others.

We spoke for an hour with Botha about several topics, including how user behavior is rapidly evolving, trends he’s seeing, his outlook on economic recovery, how he’s evaluating new investments and how fundraising itself is changing. Fun fact: Sequoia has made 10 investments over Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic forced us to stay at home.

The full conversation was broadcast on YouTube, and the embed appears below.

Side note: Extra Crunch Live is our new virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members. Folks can ask their own questions live during the chat, with guests that include Aileen Lee, Kirsten Green, Mark Cuban and many, many more. You can check out the schedule here.

Below, you’ll find a lightly edited transcript of our recent chat with Botha. Enjoy!

The differences in fundraising based on stage

When you’re listening to a seed-stage company, it’s often about the story. The founders paint a vision of the future. That’s part of what I love about my job, by the way. You’re sitting there and you’re trying to imagine what the world is going to look like one day and whether this company is on the right side of history. Or is it implausible that this will happen? It’s so much fun to sit there and think about that. At the seed stage, it’s about the story.

As you get to a Series A or Series B stage, the company will definitely start to have some metrics: usage numbers, early adoption numbers. If it’s an enterprise company, what are people willing to pay for your product? You start to get a sense of the metrics that back up the story. If the metrics don’t support the story, then you start to wonder if that company makes sense. In the long run, you need to have financials that flow from the metrics. But that’s typically at a Series C or later stage. And clearly, by the time a company goes public, you need to have connected story to metrics to financials.


By Jordan Crook

VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.


By Jonathan Shieber

As private investment cools, enterprise startups may try tapping corporate dollars

Founders hunting down capital in the middle of this pandemic may feel like they’re on a fool’s errand, but some investors are still offering financing, even if the terms might not be as good as they once were. One avenue that appears to remain open: corporate venture capital.

The corporate route offers its own set of unique challenges, depending on the philosophy of the organization’s investment arm. Some are looking strictly for companies that fit neatly into their platform, while others believe a solid investment is more important than a perfect fit.

Regardless of style, these firms want their investment targets to succeed on their own merits, rather than as part of the organization the funding arm represents. To get the lay of the land, we spoke to a couple of firms that take very different approaches to their investments: Dell Technologies Capital and Salesforce Ventures.

Corporate venture is a different animal

Corporate venture funds aren’t typically as large as private ones, but they have a lot to offer, such as global sales and marketing support and a depth of knowledge that offers direct benefits to a young upstart. This can help founders avoid mistakes, but there is danger in becoming too dependent on the company.

The good news is that these companies are often not leading the round, but are instead providing some cash and guidance, which leaves entrepreneurs to develop and grow on their own. While the pandemic is forcing many changes in approaches to investment, the two corporate venture capital firms we spoke to said they will continue to invest, and their theses remains pretty much the same.

If you have an enterprise focus and you can convince these firms to take a chance, they offer some interesting perks a private firm might not be able to, or at the very least provide a piece of your funding puzzle in these difficult times.


By Ron Miller

Seed investors take long view on promising enterprise startups

The job of an early-stage startup founder is challenging in good times, never mind a crash like the one we are experiencing today.

While most expect private investing to slow down, it’s clear that some investments are still happening in spite of the pandemic, if the stories we are writing on TechCrunch are any indication.

But the downturn is bound to have an impact on the types of deals that receive funding; any startup that offers a good or service requiring human interaction or installation will face an uphill battle, at least in the short term. That said, enterprise SaaS vendors, especially ones that solve hard problems, help with work-from-home or collaboration, or better yet, help increase efficiency and save money, are still very much in demand.

Nobody can do anything about the CIO who is hunkering down until things improve — but that’s not everyone. Companies might be thinking twice about where they spend money, but some are still helping drive the net-new, post-COVID-19 investments happening from seed to late stage across many sectors.

We looked at data and spoke to a couple of enterprise-focused, NYC-based seed investors to better understand their investing cadence. Nobody painted a rosy picture of today’s climate, but seed investors were never about immediate gratification, especially where enterprise startups are concerned. That means, if a seed-stage investor believes in the founders and their vision and the company can ride out today’s economic upset, there’s still money in the till — at least for now.

Seed investment generally in decline


By Ron Miller

This startup got a meeting with Mark Suster by getting clever with Google ads

Startups have done some wild things to get the attention of VCs. In fact, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta sent YC partner (at the time) Garry Tan a six-pack of beer through the service after missing the deadline for Y Combinator by two months.

Yesterday, the ingenuity of startups struck again.

Tadabase.io, an enterprise startup that offers no-code tools to help businesses automate their processes, has had an ad running that was… well, hyper targeted.

ProductHunt founder and WeekendFund investor Ryan Hoover discovered the ad and shared it on Twitter.

Hoover told TechCrunch he was Googling Mark Suster to facilitate an introduction between Suster and one of Hoover’s portfolio companies. Instead, he found a Google ad directed squarely at Suster from Tadabase.io.

“Mark Suster, you haven’t invested in nocode” read the paid listing. “Therefore, we put this ad here to get your attention. If you’re not Mark, please don’t click here and save us some money.”

I reached out to Suster, managing partner at UpFront Ventures, to see what he thought of the ad. He told me he “loved it” and has already contacted the CEO to set up a call for next week.

Whether this clever Google ad will result in an actual investment is yet to be determined. Also unclear: will Ryan Hoover get in on the deal?

I reached out to Tadabase founder and CEO Moe Levine via email to ask about the ad, how they went about targeting, and how he feels about his upcoming phone call next week. He hasn’t responded yet. I’ll update if/when he does.


By Jordan Crook

How some founders are raising capital outside of the VC world

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today, we’re exploring fundraising from outside the venture world.

Founders looking to raise capital to power their growing companies have more options than ever. Traditional bank loans are an option, of course. As is venture capital. But between the two exists a growing world of firms and funds looking to put capital to work in young companies that have growing revenues and predictable economics.

Firms like Clearbanc are rising to meet demand for capital with more risk appetite than a traditional bank looking for collateral, but less than an early-stage venture firm. Clearbanc offers growth-focused capital to ecommerce and consumer SaaS companies for a flat fee, repaid out of future revenues. Such revenue-based financing is becoming increasingly popular; you could say the category has roots in the sort of venture debt that groups like Silicon Valley Bank have lent for decades, but there’s more of it than ever and in different flavors.

While revenue-based financing, speaking generally, is attractive to SaaS and ecommerce companies, other types of startups can benefit from alt-capital sources as well. And, some firms that disburse money to growing companies without an explicit equity stake are finding a way to connect capital to them.

Today, let’s take a quick peek at three firms that have found interesting takes on providing alternative startup financing: Earnest Capital with its innovative SEAL agreement, RevUp Capital, which offers services along with non-equity capital, and Capital, which both invests and loans using its own proprietary rubric.

After all, selling equity in your company to fund sales and marketing costs might not be the most efficient way to finance growth; if you know you are going to get $3 out from $1 in spend, why sell forever shares to do so?

Your options

Before we dig in, there are many players in what we might call the alt-VC space. Lighter Capital came up again and again in emails from founders. Indie.vc has its own model that is pretty neat as well. In honor of starting somewhere, however, we’re kicking off with Earnest, RevUp and Capital. We’ll dive into more players in time. (As always, email me if you have something to share.)


By Alex Wilhelm

Tech startups going public raise 3x more today than in 2015

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the grey space in between.

Today we’re exploring the 2019 IPO cohort from a capital-in perspective. How much did tech companies going public in 2019 raise before they went public, and what impact that did that have on their valuation when they debuted?

Looking ahead, the tech startups and other venture-backed companies expected to go public in 2020 will include a similar mix of mid-sized offerings, unicorn debuts and perhaps a huge direct listing. What we’ve seen in 2019 should be a good prelude to the 2020 IPO market.

With that in mind, let’s examine how much money tech companies that went public this year raised before their IPO. Spoiler: It’s a lot more than was normal just a few years ago. Afterwards, I have a question regarding what to call companies in the $100 million ARR club (more here) that we’ve been exploring lately. Let’s go!

Privately rich

According to CBInsights’ recent IPO 2020 IPO report, there’s a sharp, upward swing in the amount of capital that tech companies raise before they go public. It’s so steep that the data draw a nearly linear breakout from a preceding, comfortable normal.

Here’s the chart:

There are two distinct periods; from 2012 to 2015, raising up to $100 million was the norm (median) for tech companies going public. That’s still a lot of cash, mind.

The second period is more exciting. From 2016 on we can see a private capital arms race in which tech companies going public stacked ever-greater sums under their mattresses before debuting. This is generally consistent with a different trend that you are also aware of, namely the rise of $100 million financings.

Before we turn back to the CBInsights data, let’s observe a chart from Crunchbase News that underscores the simply astounding rise of $100 million financings that was published just a few weeks ago. As you look at this chart, remember that prior to 2016, more than half of venture-backed technology companies going public had raised less than $100 million total:

Now, compare the two data sets.


By Alex Wilhelm

SAP spinout Sapphire Ventures raises $1.4B for new investments

Sapphire Ventures, the former corporate venture arm of SAP, has raised $1.4 billion for growth investments, including a $150 million opportunity fund to support larger deals.

The firm, which focuses primarily on enterprise tech companies in the U.S., Europe and Israel, writes checks to Series B through pre-IPO businesses. Its portfolio includes 23andMe, Sumo Logic and TransferWise.

The new funds brings Sapphire Ventures, which became independent from the German software company SAP in 2011, assets under management to north of $4 billion. Sapphire will write checks sized between $5 million and $100 million with the new funds, allowing the team “to do any financing we need to or want to,” chief executive officer and managing director Nino Marakovic tells TechCrunch. Sapphire’s fourth growth fund is the firm’s largest to date at more than double the size of Sapphire Ventures $700 million Fund III. 

“Wee need this fund because companies are staying private much longer because they want to get to a $200 million revenue run rate before they go public,” Sapphire Ventures president and co-founder Jai Das (pictured) tells TechCrunch. “We want to have the capital to support these companies as they keep growing.”

News of the fund comes nearly one year after Sapphire Ventures lassoed $115 million from new limited partners to invest at the intersection of tech, sports, media and entertainment. Sapphire Sport has ties to the sports industry, from City Football Group, which owns English Premier League team Manchester City, to Adidas, the owners of the Indiana Pacers, New York Jets, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others.

Before that, the firm closed on $1 billion for its third flagship venture fund.

With seven check writers and another seven investment professionals focused on growth-stage investments, Sapphire has had a number of recent wins, counting a total of 21 initial public offerings and 55 exits since the firm’s inception.

“We’re excited to have no reached critical mass with $4 billion under management,” Marakovic said. “We are the right size to take advantage of our target area of early and later-stage enterprise software companies. We are innovating on the model by adding value-add LPs and trying to align our whole model of services to the target companies to serve them as best as possible.”


By Kate Clark

Messaging app Wire confirms $8.2M raise, responds to privacy concerns after moving holding company to the US

Big changes are afoot for Wire, an enterprise-focused end-to-end encrypted messaging app and service that advertises itself as “the most secure collaboration platform”. In February, Wire quietly raised $8.2 million from Morpheus Ventures and others, we’ve confirmed — the first funding amount it has ever disclosed — and alongside that external financing, it moved its holding company in the same month to the US from Luxembourg, a switch that Wire’s CEO Morten Brogger described in an interview as “simple and pragmatic.”

He also said that Wire is planning to introduce a freemium tier to its existing consumer service — which itself has half a million users — while working on a larger round of funding to fuel more growth of its enterprise business — a key reason for moving to the US, he added: There is more money to be raised there.

“We knew we needed this funding and additional to support continued growth. We made the decision that at some point in time it will be easier to get funding in North America, where there’s six times the amount of venture capital,” he said.

While Wire has moved its holding company to the US, it is keeping the rest of its operations as is. Customers are licensed and serviced from Wire Switzerland; the software development team is in Berlin, Germany; and hosting remains in Europe.

The news of Wire’s US move and the basics of its February funding — sans value, date or backers — came out this week via a blog post that raises questions about whether a company that trades on the idea of data privacy should itself be more transparent about its activities.

The changes to Wire’s financing and legal structure had not been communicated to users until news started to leak out, which brings up questions not just about transparency, but about how secure Wire’s privacy policy will play out, given the company’s ownership now being on US soil.

It was an issue picked up and amplified by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden . Via Twitter, he described the move to the US as “not appropriate for a company claiming to provide a secure messenger — claims a large number of human rights defenders relied on.”

The key question is whether Wire’s shift to the US puts users’ data at risk — a question that Brogger claims is straightforward to answer: “We are in Switzerland, which has the best privacy laws in the world” — it’s subject to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation framework (GDPR) on top of its own local laws — “and Wire now belongs to a new group holding, but there no change in control.” 

In its blog post published in the wake of blowback from privacy advocates, Wire also claims it “stands by its mission to best protect communication data with state-of-the-art technology and practice” — listing several items in its defence:

  • All source code has been and will be available for inspection on GitHub (github.com/wireapp).
  • All communication through Wire is secured with end-to-end encryption — messages, conference calls, files. The decryption keys are only stored on user devices, not on our servers. It also gives companies the option to deploy their own instances of Wire in their own data centers.
  • Wire has started working on a federated protocol to connect on-premise installations and make messaging and collaboration more ubiquitous.
  • Wire believes that data protection is best achieved through state-of-the-art encryption and continues to innovate in that space with Messaging Layer Security (MLS).

But where data privacy and US law are concerned, it’s complicated. Snowden famously leaked scores of classified documents disclosing the extent of US government mass surveillance programs in 2013, including how data-harvesting was embedded in US-based messaging and technology platforms.

Six years on, the political and legal ramifications of that disclosure are still playing out — with a key judgement pending from Europe’s top court which could yet unseat the current data transfer arrangement between the EU and the US.

Privacy versus security

Wire launched at a time when interest in messaging apps was at a high watermark. The company made its debut in the middle of February 2014, and it was only one week later that Facebook acquired WhatsApp for the princely sum of $19 billion. We described Wire’s primary selling point at the time as a “reimagining of how a communications tool like Skype should operate had it been built today” rather than in in 2003.

That meant encryption and privacy protection, but also better audio tools and file compression and more. It was  a pitch that seemed especially compelling considering the background of the company. Skype co-founder Janus Friis and funds connected to him were the startup’s first backers (and they remain the largest shareholders); Wire was co-founded in by Skype alums Jonathan Christensen and Alan Duric (no longer with the company); and even new investor Morpheus has Skype roots.

Even with the Skype pedigree, the strategy faced a big challenge.

“The consumer messaging market is lost to the Facebooks of the world, which dominate it,” Brogger said today. “However, we made a clear insight, which is the core strength of Wire: security and privacy.”

That, combined with trend around the consumerization of IT that’s brought new tools to business users, is what led Wire to the enterprise market in 2017.

But fast forward to today, and it seems that even as security and privacy are two sides of the same coin, it may not be so simple when deciding what to optimise in terms of features and future development, which is part of the question now and what critics are concerned with.

“Wire was always for profit and planned to follow the typical venture backed route of raising rounds to accelerate growth,” one source familiar with the company told us. “However, it took time to find its niche (B2B, enterprise secure comms).

“It needed money to keep the operations going and growing. [But] the new CEO, who joined late 2017, didn’t really care about the free users, and the way I read it now, the transformation is complete: ‘If Wire works for you, fine, but we don’t really care about what you think about our ownership or funding structure as our corporate clients care about security, not about privacy.’”

And that is the message you get from Brogger, too, who describes individual consumers as “not part of our strategy”, but also not entirely removed from it, either, as the focus shifts to enterprises and their security needs.

Brogger said there are still half a million individuals on the platform, and they will come up with ways to continue to serve them under the same privacy policies and with the same kind of service as the enterprise users. “We want to give them all the same features with no limits,” he added. “We are looking to switch it into a freemium model.”

On the other side, “We are having a lot of inbound requests on how Wire can replace Skype for Business,” he said. “We are the only one who can do that with our level of security. It’s become a very interesting journey and we are super excited.”

Part of the company’s push into enterprise has also seen it make a number of hires. This has included bringing in two former Huddle C-suite execs, Brogger as CEO and Rasmus Holst as chief revenue officer — a bench that Wire expanded this week with three new hires from three other B2B businesses: a VP of EMEA sales from New Relic, a VP of finance from Contentful; and a VP of Americas sales from Xeebi.

Such growth comes with a price-tag attached to it, clearly. Which is why Wire is opening itself to more funding and more exposure in the US, but also more scrutiny and questions from those who counted on its services before the change.

Brogger said inbound interest has been strong and he expects the startup’s next round to close in the next two to three months.


By Ingrid Lunden

83North closes $300M fifth fund focused on Europe, Israel

83North has closed its fifth fund, completing an oversubscribed $300 million raise and bringing its total capital under management to $1.1BN+.

The VC firm, which spun out from Silicon Valley giant Greylock Partners in 2015 — and invests in startups in Europe and Israel, out of offices in London and Tel Aviv — last closed a $250M fourth fund back in 2017.

It invests in early and growth stage startups in consumer and enterprise sectors across a broad range of tech areas including fintech, data centre & cloud, enterprise software and marketplaces.

General partner Laurel Bowden, who leads the fund, says the latest close represents investment business as usual, with also no notable changes to the mix of LPs investing for this fifth close.

“As a fund we’re really focused on keeping our fund size down. We think that for just the investment opportunity in Europe and Israel… these are good sized funds to raise and then return and make good multiples on,” she tells TechCrunch. “If you go back in the history of our fundraising we’re always somewhere between $200M-$300M. And that’s the size we like to keep.”

“Of course we do think there’s great opportunities in Europe and Israel but not significantly different than we’ve thought over the last 15 years or so,” she adds.

83North has made around 70 investments to date — which means its five partners are usually making just one investment apiece per year.

The fund typically invests around $1M at the seed level; between $4M-$8M at the Series A level and up to $20M for Series B, with Bowden saying around a quarter of its investments go into seed (primarily into startups out of Israel); ~40% into Series A; and ~30% Series B.

“It’s somewhat evenly mixed between seed, Series A, Series B — but Series A is probably bigger than everything,” she adds.

It invests roughly half and half in its two regions of focus.

The firm has had 15 exits of portfolio companies (three of which it claims as unicorns). Recent multi-billion dollar exits for Bowden are: Just Eat, Hybris (acquired by SAP), iZettle (acquired by PayPal) and Qlik.

While 83North has a pretty broad investment canvas, it’s open to new areas — moving into IoT (with recent investments in Wiliot and VDOO), and also taking what it couches as a “growing interest” in healthtech and vertical SaaS. 

“Some of my colleagues… are looking at areas like lidar, in-vehicle automation, looking at some of the drone technologies, looking at some even healthtech AI,” says Bowden. “We’ve looked at a couple of those in Europe as well. I’ve looked, actually, at some healthtech AI. I haven’t done anything but looked.

“And also all things related to data. Of course the market evolves and the technology evolves but we’ve done things related to BI to process automation through to just management of data ops, management of data. We always look at that area. And think we’ll carry on for a number of years. ”

“In venture you have to expand,” she adds. “You can’t just stay investing in exactly the same things but it’s more small additional add-ons as the market evolves, as opposed to fundamental shifts of investment thesis.”

Discussing startup valuations, Bowden says European startups are not insulated from wider investment dynamics that have been pushing startup valuations higher — and even, arguably, warping the market — as a consequence of more capital being raised generally (not only at the end of the pipe).

“Definitely valuations are getting pushed up,” she says. “Definitely things are getting more competitive but that comes back to exactly why we’re focused on raising smaller funds. Because we just think then we have less pressure to invest if we feel that valuations have got too high or there’s just a level… where startups just feel the inclination to raise way more money than they probably need — and that’s a big reason why we like to keep our fund size relatively small.”


By Natasha Lomas

T2D3 Software Update: Embracing the Founder to CEO (F2C) Journey

It’s been four years since TechCrunch published my blog post The SaaS Adventure, which introduced the concept of a “T2D3” roadmap to help SaaS companies scale — and, as an aside, explored how well my mom understood my job as an “adventure capitalist.” The piece detailed seven distinct stages that enterprise cloud startups must navigate to achieve $100 million in annualized revenue. Specifically, the post encouraged companies to “triple, triple, double, double, double” their revenue as they hit certain milestones.

I was blown away by the response to the piece and gratified that so many founders and investors found the T2D3 framework helpful. Looking back now, I think a lot of the advice has stood the test of time. But plenty has also changed in the broader tech and software markets since 2015, and I wanted to update this advice for founders of hyper-growth companies in light of the market shifts that have occurred.

Perhaps the most notable change in the last four years is that the number of playbooks for companies to follow as they sell software has expanded. Today, more companies are embracing product-led growth and a less-formal, bottoms-up model — employees are swiping credit cards to buy a product, and not necessarily interacting with a human salesperson.

Many of the most high-profile, recent software IPOs structure their go-to-market operations this way. T2D3’s stages, by contrast, focus quite a bit on scaling a company’s internal sales function to grow. Indeed, both a product-led and a sales-led approach are viable in today’s growing B2B-tech market.

What’s more, the revenue needed for a software company to go public has increased dramatically in the last four years. This means that software founders need to focus not only on building a scalable product and finding scalable go-to-market channels, but also building a scalable org chart. These days, what is scarce for software founders isn’t money from investors; it’s great human talent.

So in addition to T2D3, my firm and I are now focusing on another founder journey: F2C, or the transition from founder/CEO to CEO/founder. This journey can take many paths, but ideally it starts with the traditional hustle to find early product/market fit.


By Arman Tabatabai

A startup factory? $1.2B-exit team launches $65M super{set}

Think Jack Dorsey’s jobs are tough? Well, Tom Chavez is running six startups. He thinks building businesses can be boiled down to science, so today he’s unveiling his laboratory for founding, funding and operating companies. He and his team have already proven they can do it themselves after selling their startups Rapt to Microsoft and Krux to Salesforce for a combined $1.2 billion. Now they’ve raised a $65 million fund for “super{set}”, an enterprise startup studio with a half-dozen companies currently in motion.

The idea is that {super}set either conceptualizes a company or brings in founders whose dream they can make a reality. The studio provides early funding and expertise while the startup works from their shared space in San Francisco, plus future ones in New York and Boston. The secret sauce is the “super{set} Code,” an execution playbook plus technological tools and building blocks that guide the strategy and eliminate redundant work. “Our belief is that we can make the companies 10x faster and increase capital efficiency by 5X,” says Chavez of his partnership with {super}set co-founders Vivek Vaidya, who acts as CTO, and Jae Lim who manages the fund.

Superset Team

The {super}set team (from left): Tom Chavez, Jae Lim, Jen Elena and Vivek Vaidya

Perhaps the question isn’t whether the portfolio startups can scale, but if the humans behind them can without breaking. It’s stressful running a single company, let alone six. Even with the order of operations nailed down, each encounters unique challenges and no plan is one-size-fits-all. But after delivering 17.5X returns to their past investors, Chavez et al. have proven their power to repeatedly recognize what enterprises need and build admittedly boring but bountiful products in customer data management, and advertising yield.

The studio’s playbooks cover business plan formation, pitch strategies, go to market, revenue, machine learning, management principles, HR processes, sales methods, pipeline measurement, product sequencing, finance, legal and more. There’s also shared engineering code it provides, so each startup doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. “I don’t think you can systemize it but I do think you can accelerate and de-risk the path,” Chavez explains.

Superset Code 1

{super}set Code

Today, the first {super}set company is coming out of stealth. Eskalera helps enterprises retain top talent by tracking diversity and inclusion stats of employees to engage them with career growth and community programs. Chavez is the CEO, but plans to install a new one shortly so he can focus more time on founding more startups. There are 55 employees across the first six companies, with two already generating revenue and most ready to emerge in the next nine months.

The funding for Eskalera and other {super}set companies comes with unique terms. Because Chavez and the team aren’t just board members you hear from once a quarter but “shoulder to shoulder with the entrepreneurs” as he repeats several times in our interview, the startups pay more equity for the cash.

The hope is having seasoned leadership aboard is worth it. “We’re product people first and foremost,” Chavez tells me. “What are you going to build? Who’s going to buy it? Why? What’s the technical moat? We’re not people doing jazz hands.” The {super}set team has plenty of skin in the game, though, given Chavez himself put in a big chunk of the $65 million, and the fund sticks to a standard management fee.

Eskalera

Eskalera

To supercharge the companies, {super}set brings in expert staffers in artificial intelligence, data science and more, who then align with the most relevant companies in the portfolio. They get equity grants to incentivize them to work hard on the startups’ behalf. “The worry I have about these larger funds is that they have an incentive disconnect where they work for the fees” Chavez says. His fund hopes to win through follow-on funding of its winners.

Tom Chavez Superset

{super}set co-founder Tom Chavez

If portfolio companies hit hard times, Chavez says {super}set will stick with them. “My first company had multiple layoffs and a major pivot. We had an enterperenur that walked away. They lost conviction, but we brought that company to an $180 million exit after people said there was no effing way and that felt really good,” Chavez says of staying the course. “The good entrepreneurs have that demonic energy.” But if everyone involved agrees a project isn’t working, they’ll shutter it. “It comes back to opportunity cost of people’s time.”

Chavez has respect for studios taking different approaches, like Atomic in consumer startups, Science in e-commerce and Pioneer Square Labs, which maintains a larger fund staff. “What excites me is moving entrepreneurship a step forward. Why couldn’t we franchise this in other cities?” He hopes {super}set can attract top talent that “just want to work on cool shit” rather than getting sucked into a single company.

Can {super}set keep all the plates spinning and really lower their risk? “If we’re wrong there will be a giant orange plume streak across the sky. The early returns are promising but we have to prove it,” Chavez says. But after accruing plenty of wealth for himself, he says the thrill that keeps him in the startup game is seeing life-changing outcomes for his teams. “I have spreadsheets showing the wealth generated by employees of companies I’ve built and nothing makes me happier than seeing them pay for tuitions, property, or retiring.”


By Josh Constine

Arceo.ai raises $37 million to expand cyber insurance coverage and access

Critical cyber attacks on both businesses and individuals have been grabbing headlines at an alarming rate. Cybersecurity has moved from a background risk for enterprises to a critical day-to-day threat to business operations, forcing executive teams to pour time and hundreds of billions in capital into monitoring and prevention efforts.

Yet even as investment in security ticks up, the frequency and cost of cybercrime to businesses continues to rapidly accelerate, with the World Economic Forum estimating the economic loss due to cybercrime could reach $3 trillion by 2020.

More companies are now turning to cyber insurance as a means of mitigating financial exposure. However, for traditional insurers, cybersecurity remains a relatively nascent and unfamiliar issue, requiring risk-assessment data points and methodologies largely different from those seen in traditional insurance products. As a result, businesses often struggle to get the scale of cybersecurity coverage they require.

Arceo.ai is hoping to expand the size and scope of the cyber insurance market for both insurers and companies, by providing insurers with effective real-time data, analytics and context, necessary for safely and efficiently underwrite cyber risk.

This morning, Arceo took a major step in achieving that goal, announcing the company has raised a $37 million round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Founders Fund with participation from CRV and  UL Ventures.

Using an expansive set of global sources across a customer’s digital footprint, Arceo.AI collects internal, external and macro cyber risk data which it uses to evaluate a company’s security and cyber risk management behavior. By automating the data collection process and connecting it with insurer underwriting processes, Arceo is able to keep its data and policy assessments up to date in real-time and enable faster, more efficient quotes.

A vital component of Arceo’s platform is its analytics offering. Using patented data science and cyber risk models, Arceo generates analytics-driven insights for insurance carriers, brokers and end-insured customers. For end-insured customers, Arceo helps companies understand whether they’re using the best mitigation strategies by providing policy recommendations and industry benchmarking to help contextualize day-to-day cyber behavior and hygiene. For underwriters, Arceo can provide specific insurance recommendations based on particular policy coverages.

Ultimately, Arceo looks to provide both insurers and the insured with actionable answers to key questions such as how one assesses cyber risk, how one determines what risks can be mitigated with technology alone, how one knows which systems are best and whether those systems are being used appropriately.

Raj Shah

Arceo.ai Chairman Raj Shah. Image via Arceo.ai

In an interview with TechCrunch, Arceo Chairman Raj Shah explained that the company’s background expertise, proprietary data systems, and deep pedigree in both the security and insurance truly differentiate Arceo from competing solutions. For starters, both Shah and Arceo co-founder and CEO Vishaal Hariprasad have spent close to the entirety of their careers in national security and cybersecurity. Hariprasad started his career in the Airforce’s first cohort of cyber warfare officers, before teaming up with Shah to start Morta Security in 2012, a security startup the two sold to Palo Alto networks in just roughly two years.

After selling the company, Shah and Hariprasad remained in the security world before realizing that there was a natural intersection between security and insurance, and a real opportunity for risk transfer solutions.

“Having studied the market, we saw that people are spending more and more dollars on cybersecurity products… There are hundreds of thousands of new vendors every year… Spend is going up, but we don’t feel any safer!” Shah told TechCrunch.

“That’s when we said ‘Hey, we need to move beyond just thinking about technology points and products, and think about holistic cyber risk management.’ And this is where insurance has historically done a great job. Putting a price on behavior and making people think and letting them take risks… From life and death and health to buyers and property and casualty. And so cyber is that next class risk… So that’s really why we started the business. We wanted to provide a real way to manage the cyber stress that they’re facing and that will impact every single one of our digital lives.”

Since the company’s founding, Raj and Vishaal have been joined by a deep network of cyber and insurance experts. Today, Arceo also announced that Hemant Shah, founder and former CEO of catastrophe risk modeling company RMS has joined Arceo’s Board of Directors. Additionally, earlier this month, the company announced that Mario Vitale, the former CEO of publically-traded insurance companies Willis Towers Watson and Zurich Insurance Group, would be joining the Arceo team as the company’s President.

The company noted that participation from high-profile industry vets like Hemant and Mario not only further advance Arceo’s competitive advantage but also acts as another major validation of the company’s future and work to date.

According to Arceo Chairman Raj Shah, after years of investing in R&D, the latest funds will be used towards expansion efforts and scaling Arceo to the broader ecosystem of insurance and brokers. Longer-term, the company hopes to offer the most complete combined cybersecurity and risk transfer solution to insurers and the insured, easing the stress around cyber threats for both enterprises and individuals and ultimately improving broader cyber resiliency.

If you’d like to hear more from Arceo’s Raj Shah, Raj will also be joining us this year on the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, where he’ll discuss how founders and companies should think about potential US government investment. We hope to see you there!


By Arman Tabatabai