All posts in “entrepreneurship”

Mobile delivers high exit multiples despite broader market slowdown

In the world of mobile apps, numbers come in two sizes: big and bigger.

More than one billion people use Facebook’s mobile app every day. Instagram — another Facebook property — has well over 100 million photos and videos uploaded to the platform every 24 hours. And untold millions of emails, instant messages, small financial transactions and other interactions are facilitated by mobile devices every day.

But what about the financial side of the mobile business; specifically, venture investment and returns? All of that activity should bring in some considerable revenue, and a lot of startups are seeking a niche in this expansive ecosystem. By taking a look at the numbers behind two different ends of the startup life cycle — seed and early-stage funding on one side and exits on the other — a reasonable understanding of the mobile market today can be had.

In doing so, we’ll see just how much money has gone to startups in the mobile sector, and the (often good) returns they generate for investors.

Early-stage venture investment in mobile may be a bright spot

In prior coverageCrunchbase News explored the performance of U.S. venture funding, and, at least as far as seed and early-stage investment goes, 2017 was not a great year.

At the early stage, which consists of Series A and Series B rounds, deal and dollar volume is down from highs set around 2015. And while we’ve asserted that this trend is widespread, there are bright spots in the early-stage market. Mobile may be one of them.

In the chart below, we display seed and early-stage funding round data for startups in Crunchbase’s “mobile” category group from 2007 through the end of 2017.

This broad group includes companies in a number of categories, encompassing everything from mobile payments and mobile health apps to iOS, Android and, yes, even Windows Phone and Palm OS. And despite declines in overall deal volume (mostly attributable to reporting delays), the pullback from 2015 highs haven’t been as precipitous as other categories or the market as a whole.

Since 2012, the average seed or early-stage round in Crunchbase’s mobile category group has been on the upswing, according to reported data.

Emerging industries may be driving growth in round size

Part of the increase may be driven by the types of companies that are being funded.

One of the main trends over the past several years is the emergence and growth of mobile-facilitated “sharing economy” services. Sure, most of us are familiar with ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, but the market has grown to include a much wider array of services.

A vibrant and highly competitive market for dockless bikes emerged seemingly out of thin air, as Crunchbase News has previously covered. Just in the last quarter of 2017, LimeBike raised $50 million in its Series B at a pre-money valuation of $175 million, and China-based Mobike raised an as-yet-unknown amount of private equity funding from LINE, the Japanese mobile messaging company.

Other mobile-focused apps in the sharing economy are gaining traction too. Hyr, a “marketplace that connects traditional businesses with workers to fill hourly paid shifts, on demand,” recently closed a $1.3 million seed round. And at the intersection of “the real world” and mobile, San Francisco-based Omni, which helps its users store and rent out their extra stuff, closed a $25 million Series B in January 2018.

And apart from the sharing economy companies, there’s also been a fair bit of investor interest in enterprise applications designed around mobile. For example, Peerfit, a Tampa-based company that aims to “redefine corporate wellness programs,” raised $10.3 million in a Series B round announced in January. On the cybersecurity front, HYPR Corp closed a $10 million Series A to fuel the growth of its mobile-based biometric authentication business.

Sharing economy and enterprise startups also share a common thread: they’re expensive to get started.

On the sharing economy side, it takes a lot of capital to build the supply and demand sides of a marketplace. Meanwhile, enterprise startups have to contend with long sales cycles and stricter requirements from their prospective customers. With a greater prevalence of capital-intensive sharing economy and enterprise startups in the mobile funding mix, it shouldn’t be surprising that the mobile category continues to fare better than others.

The economics of mobile are conducive to massive exit multiples

Venture investors often talk about investing in companies that will deliver a 10x return on invested capital. It goes without saying that doing so, and doing so consistently, is a challenge.

Recently, Crunchbase News surveyed the landscape of large “exits” and found that the life sciences offer a fairly deep pool of opportunities for large exit multiples. But the ratio of valuation to invested capital (VIC) for many of the deals highlighted in that article pale in comparison to some of the multiples to be found in mobile.

Below, we’ve highlighted just a few of the biggest M&A deals, in terms of exit multiples, to come out of the mobile sector. These companies were founded between 2003 and the present, known as the unicorn era.

Just like Crunchbase News’s earlier survey of exit multiples found that the mix of tech companies was surprisingly diverse, so too are the businesses in the table above.

However, one company connects two of these deals. Through a series of acquisitions, Facebook repositioned itself from a primarily desktop-based social network to being mobile-first. In the process, Facebook has become one side of a duopoly in mobile advertising. According to financial data compiled by Statista, Facebook’s mobile ad revenue went from basically $0 in 2012 to $8.92 billion by the end of 2017. Desktop ad revenue — some $1.2 billion — remained largely flat over the same period.

Although many believed that the $1 billion acquisition price for Instagram was far too high, Facebook raked in $4.1 billion in revenue from Instagram ads in 2017. Now that’s a multiple!

Why the decent funding and exit multiples?

As shown, the mobile sector produced some exits with very good multiples on invested capital, which is good for investors and entrepreneurs alike. The category also outperforms the general market.

So what makes the mobile category special? A few factors may be at play here. Shifts to more capital-intensive startups are being made. As far as exits go, some of the biggest came from companies with a more traditional software business model, one involving a large up-front investment of time and financial resources to build, but close to zero marginal costs to maintain and near-infinite potential to scale up.

But there is another factor to keep in mind. A few years ago, investors and the tech press were abuzz with excitement about mobile. Now that the fervor over the mobile sector has dimmed in terms of press, more exciting sectors like artificial intelligence, blockchain and others seem to be the center of attention lately. And while that may sound like a bad thing, it isn’t.

It’s not that mobile got any less exciting; it’s just become as common as the air.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias

Boeing HorizonX invests in Berkeley aerospace battery tech startup

Boeing’s HorizonX is the aerospace company’s vehicle for making investments in promising next-generation startups and technology, and it just placed its latest bet: funding in Cuberg, a Berkeley-based battery tech startup that has a founding team including Stanford University researchers.

Battery tech is still one of the most frustrating roadblocks any company encounters when trying to build electric vehicles and other battery-powered technology and transportation. For Boeing, there are plenty of potential upsides to building out batteries that can last significantly longer than those available via today’s tech.

Cuberg’s work focuses on batteries with especially high energy density, while retaining thermal safety. That basically means they hope to be able to build a new type of battery cell that can hold a lot more power for vehicles to use, while also not catching fire.

That’s not all, however: Cuberg’s approach would result in a manufacturing process that could be used in exiting large-scale battery factories. The end result is a relatively smooth transition process from existing manufacturing to building next-gen cells, which obviously means a lot less upfront investment when it comes to taking the new manufacturing process to scale.

Cuberg was originally founded in 2015, and this market the first time Boeing HorizonX has invested in any energy storage companies since its inception last year. The funding, which is described as a “second seed” round, should help Cuberg grow its team and its facilities in preparation for fully automated manufacturing.

Featured Image: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Investors are pouring money into Frank, a TurboTax for student loan applications

Venture capitalists have been trying to make money from the higher education market for years.

It’s a rich target for the clutch of investor that pride themselves (in their better moments) on investing in companies that can improve society, and that work to fix broken systems, and a new startup Frank is the latest attempt to make a lasting change in the industry.

At this point no one would argue that higher education in America isn’t broken. The debt amassed by the millennial generation and its descendants is nothing short of crippling and increasingly a degree (either vocational or academic) is no longer the guarantor of success that it once was.

Still, the benefits outweigh the risks attendant in not becoming bonafide, so millions of students each year humble themselves before the altar of admissions officers and two-year and four-year institutions.

What many of these students don’t know is that they’re leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

Much of the money that venture capitalists have committed to startups in this space focuses on new ways to lend money, but Frank, which just raised $10 million in funding, is taking a different route.

Rather than lend students money, Frank is looking to make the process of applying for loans easier. The company, founded by 25-year-old former banker and University of Pennsylvania graduate Charlie Javice, is like a TurboTax for college loan applications.

It’s backed by a clutch of interesting investors including Aleph, the U.S.-Israeli investment fund that’s also put money into new insurance company, Lemonade and WeWork; Reach Capital; former Uber advocate Bradley Tusk’s Tusk Ventures; and Slow Ventures. Marc Rowan, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, led the most recent investment.

Charlie Javice, Frank’s founder and chief executive

“You need to change the trajectory before people have to take on debt,” Javice tells me.

That’s Franks’ mission. The company launched in March with a pilot program for low-income students at a few high schools in the Bronx.

“I spent a lot of time on the banking side trying to figure out how to lend money in a more responsible way, and have banks give a shit,” Javice has said elsewhere. “It always came back to the one thing which was, there was no ally for students.”

The company’s technology automates much of the application process for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form that is the gateway to getting the federal government to help pay for a college education.

It’s important to note that almost everyone qualifies for some form of student aid.

A NerdWallet study from 2016 indicated that students left $2.7 billion in free federal Pell grants on the table by not completing FAFSA information.

Initially, Javice came to the problem by focusing on providing better credit scoring to lower the cost of loans for students. “Dumb, blind monkeys could do a better job of credit scoring than banks do,” Javice tells me.

But ultimately, that startup ran afoul of regulators who insisted that the new company needed to be regulated as a credit-scoring agency.

The critical factor, Javice says, is that lenders aren’t incentivized to help their customer. They make more money when they can charge more interest on payments, and the government has been inflating the cost of education by giving away money to institutions that then funnel those funds into facilities and athletics departments that in turn require higher tuition costs to maintain their upkeep, Javice says.

“Most schools want to maximize revenue,” she says.

Frank makes money for offering some premium services. It’s free for folks to use the service to make the FAFSA application process easier, but for a $500 flat fee students can access an aid appeal process that can let them try to get more money if they’ve accepted a lower loan package — and a review feature that lets an expert double-check the information that students provide on their FAFSA forms.

And Frank’s services apply to more than just four year colleges.

“We have beautician, cooking school, truck driving schools,” that are eligible for these grants, Javice said. “Over the summer 40% of our base is going to these vocational or technical colleges.”

Roughly 63% of Frank’s customers are young women, 83% are 17 to 24 years old and nearly half will be the first people in their family to attend a college. The company is also helping veterans, who after years of military service often can’t access the benefits they’re supposed to receive under the GI Bill because the process is so arcane and complicated, Javice said.

The company has 18 full time employees, 10 in Israel and 8 in the U.S. and has a support team comprised of students who have taken advantage of the company’s services.

Right now, Frank will manage the FAFSA application process everywhere, and is partnering with New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania for managing state aid programs. Eventually the company would like to move into helping students manage the loan repayment process as well.

“Charlie and her team at Frank are creating a fair financial service and solving a legitimate need – giving students across the U.S. access to higher education,” Frank’s new lead investor, Rowan, said in a statement.

See you tonight at the Brooklyn micro meetup

I’ve been holding a few micro meetups over the past few years and thought I’d start it up again in honor of token/ICO mania. I’d love to hear what you all are working on in the New York area so we’ll all meet at Union Hall in Brooklyn tonight at 7pm.

The event is very informal and we’ll plan the next few months of micro-meetups during the event. My goal is to do a few pitching workshops in February and March and then do a real pitch-off in the Spring in preparation for VC season. If you’re interested in talking tokens or honing your startup craft come on out. You can RSVP here.

Featured Image: ChrisHepburn/Getty Images

Let’s meet in New York to talk token sales

I’ve been holding a few micro meet ups over the past few years and thought I’d start it up again in honor of token/ICO mania. I’d love to hear what you all are working on in the New York area so we’ll all meet at Union Hall in Brooklyn next Wednesday at 7pm.

The event is very informal and we’ll plan the next few months of micro-meetups during the event. My goal is to do a few pitching workshops in February and March and then do a real pitch-off in the Spring in preparation for VC season. If you’re interested in talking tokens or honing your startup craft come on out. You can RSVP here.

Featured Image: Klaus Vartzbed EyeEm/Getty Images