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April 21, 2019
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Finance

Startups Weekly: Zoom CEO says its stock price is ‘too high’

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When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan.

Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO.

I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say.

“I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.”

“The dream is coming true,” he added. 

For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work.

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IPO corner

You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not:

  • Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad.
  • Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over.
  • Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming.

$1B for self-driving cars

While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion.

Robots!

The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer.

Digital health investment is down

Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group.

Startup capital

Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer
Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb
Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round
Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation
Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding
Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android
Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service

Extra Crunch

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story.

Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands

And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Unpacking Pinterest’s IPO expectations

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For seven years, Pinterest has been considered a “unicorn,” boasting a valuation larger than $1 billion since its 2012 Series C funding round. Before that, it was considered an underdog, puzzling some investors with its “digital pinboard” and preference for “quality growth.”

Now, as the company takes its final step toward its Thursday NYSE initial public offering, it’s being called an “undercorn.”

Pinterest plans to sell shares of its stock, titled “PINS,” at $15 to $17 apiece, less than the roughly $21 per share it charged private market investors to participate in its mid-2017 Series H, its last private financing. That IPO price translates into a mid-range valuation of $10.64 billion, or nearly $2 billion under the $12.3 billion valuation it garnered after its last round, hence “undercorn.”

There are many potential causes to a down round like this. In the case of Pinterest, it’s probably less a result of newly public Lyft’s poor performance on the stock market and more a result of its own reputation for slow growth. Pinterest is a disciplined company that’s carved a clear path to profitability. It has invested a lot of time and energy into building a positive, diverse culture and a product devoid of trolls and hate speech — time some believe should have been spent focused on rapid growth and scale.

Sure, if Pinterest had tossed its values aside and blitzscaled, maybe it would debut with a larger initial market cap, but its corporate culture will be key to its long-term value, and investors are going to get rich off its IPO either way. So Pinterest is an undercorn — who cares?

Pinterest isn’t too nice

Ben Silbermann, chief executive officer of Pinterest. Photographer: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Founded in 2010, Pinterest is one of the youngest members of the newly dubbed “A-PLUS” cohort of unicorns, made up of Airbnb, Pinterest, Lyft, Uber and Slack. Compared to its peers, Pinterest has raised a modest $1.47 billion in equity funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, which holds a 13.1 percent pre-IPO stake, FirstMark Capital (9.8 percent), Andreessen Horowitz (9.6 percent), Fidelity Investments (7.1 percent) and Valiant Capital Partners (6 percent), according to the company’s IPO filing.

Today, Pinterest counts more than 250 million monthly active users, despite a company culture that many have said has slowed progress. Co-founder and chief executive officer Ben Silbermann, as The New York Times pointed out in a recent profile, is not your typical unicorn CEO. He has refused to adopt the move fast and break things mentality, and shied away from the press and focused on “quality growth” and a supportive company culture.

Even with Pinterest’s new status as an undercorn, Bessemer still owns a stake worth upwards of $1 billion. At a midpoint price, FirstMark and a16z’s shares will be worth about $700 million each. Pinterest employees may be too nice to make decisions as quick as other unicorns, as is the claim in CNBC’s recent piece on the company, but the company wouldn’t be where it is today if it completely lacked a “strategic direction.”

“Being nice and having core values and making decisions with intent is to their overall benefit,” Eric Kim, the co-founder of consumer tech investment firm Goodwater Capital, told TechCrunch. “They’ve done an amazing job at being very disciplined with a focus on top lines.”

IPO prospects

More often than not, businesses accrue value at IPO. Look at Zoom, for example; the under-the-radar video conferencing business is expected to increase its valuation nine times over in its IPO, expected tomorrow.

It’s a disappointment to late-stage investors when the opposite happens for one obvious reason: They may not see a return on their investment. If Pinterest indeed becomes an undercorn next week, the new investors that participated in its Series H may have to hold on to their stock longer than planned in hopes its value climbs over time. That, right there, is the worst thing about being an undercorn. These titles are otherwise just nonsense.

Pinterest’s valuation has long radically exceeded its revenues — a factor that surely paved the way for a down round — yet it was touted as a tech marvel, a unicorn among unicorns. In recent years, its valuation has swelled from $4.75 billion in 2014 to $10.47 billion in 2015 to, finally, $12.3 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, Pinterest posted revenues of $299 million in 2016, $473 million in 2017 and $756 million in 2018. There’s no denying the company’s clear path to profitability, as its losses are shrinking year-over-year while profits grow, but 2018’s revenues are still 16 times less than Pinterest’s “decacorn” valuation.

Silicon Valley has a tendency to over-value unprofitable consumer-facing businesses; Pinterest’s down round IPO could be a sign of Wall Street’s reckoning with Silicon Valley’s vanity metrics. Pinterest, however, isn’t the first unicorn to take a hit to its valuation at IPO. Both Box, the cloud-based content management platform, and payments company Square were undercorns when they went public, for example. Square has since thrived as a public company, while Box is currently trading around its initial share price.

“The recovery is all about execution as a public company when everything is much more transparent,” Monique Skruzny, CEO of InspIR Group, an advisory firm focused on investor relations, told TechCrunch. “The IPO is the beginning of a company’s long-term relationship with the public markets and the public markets have to make money. Going public at a valuation that may not necessarily be what some might think or consider to be the top leaves room for upside going forward.”

For Pinterest, continuing to cut losses and surpassing $1 billion in revenue this year is key. Given its history, financial metrics and the generally favorable market conditions, it looks poised to make that happen.

The bottom line is Pinterest, given its slow growth and inflated valuation, was probably always doomed to be nicknamed an undercorn. Its culture, however, shouldn’t be to blame for its new status. After all, a $10 billion IPO is something for the tech industry to be proud of, not to criticize.

In the words of former investor and Evernote co-founder Phil Libin, who joined me on the Equity podcast last week to talk IPOs: “Who would criticize a company who sacrifices growth because they have important culture? Losers, honestly.”

“If they didn’t have the culture and the people they wouldn’t have made anything,” he added.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Proof of Capital is a new $50M blockchain fund that’s backed by HTC

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It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.

The fund is led by trio Phil Chen, who created HTC’s Vive VR headset and is currently developing its Exodus blockchain phone (he spent time as a VC with Horizons Ventures in between), Edith Yeung, who previously headed up mobile for 500 Startups, and Chris McCann, a Thiel Fellow whose last role was head of community for U.S. VC firm Greylock Partners.

The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.

“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.

The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.

“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”

Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen

The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.

Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.

“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”

“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.

Indeed, last year we wrote about the rise of private sales and that even the biggest blockchain companies took on VC fundingcrypto didn’t kill VCs despite the hype — and Yeung said that blockchain startup founders in 2019 are “taking a more concerted approach” to raising money beyond simply issuing tokens.

“Many projects that raised ICO really smelt like equity,” said Yeung. “We are seeing companies today delaying token issuance as much as possible; the whole thing has gone a little more back to earth.”

HTC is an anchor LP in Proof of Capital, and it is working with the fund to help its portfolio companies develop services for its Exodus blockchain phone, pictured above

News Source = techcrunch.com

Airbase launches with $7M Series A to simplify spending control systems

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Airbase is a startup with a plan to change the way you think about accounting around spending. Instead of multiple workflows, it wants to create a simpler one involving, well, Airbase. It’s a bold move for any startup to take on something as entrenched as financials, but it’s giving it a shot, and today the company launched with a $7 million Series A investment.

First Round Capital was lead investor. Maynard Webb, Village Global, BoxGroup and Quiet Capital also participated. The deal closed at the end of November last year. This is the first external funding for the company, which company founder and CEO, Thejo Kote had bootstrapped previously with $300,000 of his own money.

“At a high level, Airbase is the first all-in-one spend management system. It replaces a number of different systems that companies use to manage how they spend money,” Kote told TechCrunch.

He knows of what he speaks. Prior to starting this company, Kote co-founded Automatic, a startup that he sold to SiriusXM for more than $100 million in 2017. As a founder, he saw just how difficult it was to track the vast variety of spending inside a company from supplies to subscriptions to food and drink.

“Think about the hundreds of things that companies spend money on, and the way in which the management of that happens is a pretty broken process today,” he said. For starters, it usually involves some sort of approval request in a tool like Slack, Jira or Google forms.

Once approved, the person requesting the expense will put that on a company credit card, then have to submit expense reports at the end of each month using a tool like Expensify. If you purchase from vendor, then that involves an invoice and that has to be processed and paid. Finally it would need to be reconciled and accounted for in accounting software. Each step of this process ends up being time-consuming and costly for an organization.

Kote’s idea was to take this process and streamline it by removing the friction, which he saw as being related to the disparate systems in place to get the work done. He believed by creating a single workflow on a unified, single platform he could create a smoother system for everyone involved.

He is putting that single system in between the bank and the accounting system including a virtual Airbase Visa card to take the place of physical cards. Request for spending happens inside Airbase instead of an external tool. When the virtual card gets charged, bookkeeping and reconciliation gets handled in Airbase and pushed to your accounting package of choice.

Airbase workflow. Diagram: Airbase

This could be a difficult proposition for companies with existing systems in place, but could be attractive to startups and small companies whose accounting systems have not yet hardened. Perhaps that’s why most of Airbase’s customers are startups or SMBs with between 500 and 5000 employees, such as Gusto, Netlify and Segment.

Bill Trenchard, General Partner at lead investor First Round Capital says he has seen very little innovation in this space and that’s what drew him to Airbase. “Airbase has taken a bold step forward to create an entirely new paradigm. It delivers a real solution to the biggest problems finance teams face as their companies grow,” Trenchard said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2017 and has 22 employees today. It has a sales office in San Francisco, but other employees are spread across four countries.

News Source = techcrunch.com

YC alum Keeper raises $1.6M to help gig workers pay taxes

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Every year around this time, Uber drivers, Wag dog walkers, Bird scooter chargers, social media influencers and other gig economy workers face the unsightly challenge of paying their taxes.

Companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors, which means you aren’t given any benefits and the company doesn’t withhold any of your taxes. This puts gig workers in a tough position come tax day, especially if they aren’t prepared to shell out big sums to the IRS.

Keeper, a startup that’s just graduated from the Y Combinator startup accelerator, is here to make taxes a lot easier for that demographic and to save them as much money as possible.

Founded by childhood buddies and former debate partners Paul Koullick and David Kang, the San Francisco-based company has raised $1.65 million on a $10 million valuation in a round led by Jake Jolis of Matrix Partners.

Keeper co-founders Paul Koullick (left) and David Kang

The pair entered YC this winter with a big idea and little to show for it. Come March, they had developed a full-fledged product and accumulated 200 paying customers. With their first round of funding, they plan to add to their small but growing team and acquire 10,000 customers in the next 18 months.

“There are some companies that are trying to go very broad and trying to cover the whole spectrum of benefits; we’re just trying to go really deep on taxes,” Kang told TechCrunch. “This is a pain point. This is where people are definitely leaving the most money on the table.”

Keeper guesses the average gig worker in the U.S. is overpaying their taxes by more than 20 percent, or about $1,550 for those making more than $25,000 per year. Why? Because these independent contractors aren’t claiming the tax write-offs available to them, like phone bills, car maintenance fees and even a Spotify subscription for drivers.

“If you’re a dog walker, there are so many things you need to be writing off, like your poop bags, your extra leashes, your parking,” Koullick told TechCrunch. “This population needs the guidance of an accountant, but they can’t afford one and we’re trying to create this third option.”

Like a personal accountant, Keeper monitors gig workers’ expenses all year in search of possible tax deductions, saving each user $173 per month on average, it estimates. The startup uses Plaid to follow its customers’ transaction history, and once per day sends a text message asking if there are any tax write-offs to note. Over time, it gets smarter and smarter, keeping the SMS questions to a minimum.

Keeper doesn’t fully file taxes for 1099 workers yet, but will begin offering a quarterly tax filing service in June. Next year, it plans to offer a full-year tax-filing service.

Koullick, Keeper’s chief executive officer, worked in product at Square before joining another startup, called Stride, where he built and scaled Stride Tax, a mileage and expense-tracking app. Kang, for his part, has spent most of his post-graduate career at a trading firm in Chicago, focused on quantitative modeling. The two toyed with a few startup ideas before landing on Keeper’s tax business.

“We wanted to build something that actually mattered to real people,” Koullick explained. “And we wanted to do it in the financial space where we were happy to wade through ugly details and systems on their behalf.”

Keeper isn’t the only recent YC alum focused on the growing gig economy. Another, Catch, sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax-withholding services directly to freelancers, contractors or anyone uncovered. Given the rapid rise of Uber and other gig platforms, it’s no wonder YC startups are tapping into the various business opportunities available there.

“We’re willing to tackle some of these topics that are kind of boring and mundane and really intensive,” Kang added. “Like the average person doesn’t want to think about taxes or filling out forms. We saw that as an opportunity for us to step in and be like, hey, we’ll take it.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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