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April 21, 2019
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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

Cathay Capital and AfricInvest to raise $168M Africa VC fund

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Tunisia based private equity firm Africinvest has teamed up with Cathay Capital — a global private equity firm based in Paris — to launch a new Africa tech fund with a target raise of $168 million.

Details are still forthcoming, but the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund will focus primarily on series A to C stage investments in African technology companies, says fund co-founder Denis Barrier.

“We’ll look at investments across several countries in Africa. We’ll focus on areas such as fintech, logistics, AI, agtech, and edutech,” Barrier says.

Barrier could not say when the fund would be closed, but did confirm investments could come as early as summer 2019.  He expects to see strong local showing for startups from across Africinvest’s 10 country offices in Abidjan, Algiers, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Lagos, Nairobi, Paris and Port Louis, and Tunis. The firm will open an office in Johannesburg in the near future, according to a company release.

In the private equity space, both founding companies of the new Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund  carry considerable capital and scope. Co-founded by Denis Barrier and Mingpo Cai, Cathay Capital has $2.5 billion in assets under management and offices in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle-East.

Per Crunchbase, Africinvest’s 46 venture and debt investments span the brick and mortar side of many of the sectors the new tech fund looks to target, including education and banking.

With the line between banks and fintech also starting to blur in Africa, that could lead to an advantage for the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund in sourcing deal flow.

The new investment group enters during a period when investment rounds and the number of funds focused on African startups continues to grow rapidly. By Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards, the value of VC to African startups—which surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2018 according to Partech—is minuscule. But by one estimate, that represents more than a one-hundred percent increase in VC to Africa over a four-year period.

The number of Africa focused VC firms globally has also grown, topping 51 in 2018 per TechCrunch and Crunchbase research.

The Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund takes the number of to 52.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

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The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Startups Weekly: US companies raised $30B in Q1 2019

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Let’s start this week’s newsletter with some data. Nationally, startups pulled in $30.8 billion in the first quarter of 2019, up 22 percent year-on-year, according to Crunchbase’s latest deal round-up.

A closer look at the numbers shows a big drop in angel funding and a slight decrease in mega-rounds, or financings larger than $100 million. The number of mega-rounds fell to 57 deals in Q1 and deal value was down too. With that said, mega-rounds still accounted for $16.4 billion, making Q1 2019 the second-best quarter on record for mega-rounds.

The bottom line is these monstrous deals represented a big chunk (29 percent) of all the dollars invested in U.S. startups in Q1. As investors move downstream and startups opt to stay private longer and longer, we’ll continue to see a greater pick up in mega rounds.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

OK, on to other news…

IPO corner

Once trading after the pink confetti was swept up off the floor, analysts and investors had a different story to tell about one of the first unicorns to make its public debut. Lyft began the week struggling to hit its IPO price, closing several days under that $72, despite opening with a 20 percent pop at $86. What’s going on? People are shorting the Lyft stock, looking to profit off the company’s sinking value. Things are looking up though; on Friday as I typed this newsletter, Lyft was trading at about $74 per share.

In other IPO, or shall I say, direct listing news, Slack has reportedly chosen the NYSE for its upcoming exit. A quick reminder why Slack has opted to go public via direct listing: The company doesn’t need any IPO cash thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars on its balance sheet, but its longtime employees and investors need the liquidity. A direct listing allows it to go public without listing any new shares, with no lockup period and no intermediary bankers. The process saves it some money and expedites the process. OK, that wasn’t as brief as I intended, moving on…

Saying goodbye to venture capital

In a story that sent the entirety of Silicon Valley into a frenzy, Forbes reported that Andreessen Horowitz was denouncing its status as a venture capital firm and would register all its employees as financial advisors. For those inclined, Crunchbase News’ Alex Wilhelm and I unpacked what this means in the latest episode of Equity; for those less inclined, here’s the TLDR: For a16z to have the freedom to make riskier bets, like buying public company stock or heaps of cryptocurrency, the title of financial advisor gives them that ability.

Femtech’s billion-dollar year

Femtech, defined as any software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health, has attracted some $250 million in VC funding so far this year, according to PitchBook. That puts the sector on pace to secure nearly $1 billion in investment by year-end, greatly surpassing last year’s record of $650 million. For more historical context, startups in the space brought in only $62 million in 2012, $225 million in 2014 and $231 million in 2016.

The 20-Min Term Sheet

Alternative financier Clearbanc says it will invest $1 billion in 2,000 e-commerce startups in 2019. Here’s the catch: Until the companies have paid back 106 percent of Clearbanc’s investment, Clearbanc takes a percentage of their revenues every month. Clearbanc’s goal is to help companies preserve equity, favoring a revenue share model rather than the traditional VC model, which eats equity in startups in exchange for capital. I spoke to Clearbanc co-founder Michele Romanow to learn more about Clearbanc’s attempt to disrupt venture capital.

Startup capital

Extra Crunch

TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey authored the be-all-end-all story on the shared-electric-scooter business. Here’s a quick passage: “The startup ecosystem had become accustomed to the ethos of begging for forgiveness, rather than asking for permission. But that’s not the case with electric scooters. These companies have found their entire businesses to be contingent on the continued approval from individual cities all over the world. That inherently creates a number of potential conflicts.” Extra Crunch subscribers can read the full story here. 

Plus, we dropped the Niantic EC-1, in which Greg Kumparak dives deep into the history of the maker Pokemon Go, contributor Sherwood Morrison looked at remote workers and nomads, who represent the next tech hub.

Unicorns are investors, too

TechCrunch has confirmed that Airbnb has invested between $150 million to $200 million in Indian hotel startup Oyo. Airbnb confirmed the existence of the deal but not the exact amount. The home-sharing giant is continuing to widen its focus beyond “unconventional” hotels as it prepares to begin selling pubic market investors on its long-term vision. Remember, this deal comes right after its big acquisition of HotelTonight.

M&A

WeWork acquired Managed by Q this week, a VC-backed startup that helps office managers and other decision-makers handle supply stocking, cleaning, IT support and other non-work related tasks in the office by simply using the Managed by Q dashboard. The company was most recently valued at $250 million, having raised a total of $128.25 million from investors such as GV,  RRE and Kapor Capital.

#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 the future of a16z, Jumia’s IPO, the Midas list and more of this week’s headlines.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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