All posts in “Exit”

Zendesk acquires Smooch, doubles down on support via messaging apps like WhatsApp

One of the bigger developments in customer services has been the impact of social media — both as a place to vent frustration or praise (mostly frustration), and — especially over messaging apps — as a place for businesses to connect with their users.

Now, customer support specialist Zendesk has made an acquisition so that it can make a bigger move into how it works within social media platforms, and specifically messaging apps: it has acquired Smooch, a startup that describes itself as an “omnichannel messaging platform,” which companies’ customer care teams can use to interact with people over messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and Messenger, as well as SMS and email.

Smooch was in fact one of the first partners for the WhatsApp Business API, alongside VoiceSageNexmoInfobip, Twilio, MessageBird and others are already advertising their services in this area.

It had also been a longtime partner of Zendesk’s, powering the company’s own WhatsApp Business integration and other features. The two already have some customers in common, including Uber. Other Smooch customers include Four Seasons, SXSW, Betterment, Clarabridge, Harry’s, LVMH, Delivery Hero and BarkBox.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Zendesk SVP  class=”il”>Shawna Wolverton said in an interview that that the startup’s entire team of 48, led by co-founder and CEO Warren Levitan, are being offered positions with Zendesk. Smooch is based out of Montreal, Canada — so this represents an expansion for Zendesk into building an office in Canada.

Its backers included iNovia, TA Associates and Real Ventures, who collectively had backed it with less than $10 million (when you leave in inflated hills surrounding Silicon Valley, numbers magically decline). As Zendesk is publicly traded, we may get more of a picture of the price in future quarterly reports. This is the company’s fifth acquisition to date.

The deal underscores the big impact that messaging apps are making in customer service. While phone and internet are massive points of contact, messaging apps is one of the most-requested features Zendesk’s customers are asking for, “because they want to be where their customers are,” with WhatsApp — now at 1.5 billion users — currently at the top of the pile, Wolverton said. (More than half of Zendesk’s revenues are from outside the US, which speaks to why WhatsApp — which is bigger outside the US than it is in it — is a popular request.)

That’s partly a by-product of how popular messaging apps are full-stop, with more than 75 percent of all smartphone users having at least one messaging app in use on their devices.

“We live in a messaging-centric world, and customers expect the convenience and interactivity of messaging to be part of their experiences,” said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk founder, CEO and chairman, in a statement. “As long-time partners with Smooch, we know first hand how much they have advanced the conversational experience to bring together all forms of messaging and create a continuous conversation between customers and businesses.”

While the two companies were already working together, the acquisition will mean a closer integration.

That will be in multiple areas. Last year, Zendesk launched a new CRM play called Sunshine, going head to head with the likes of Salesforce in helping businesses better organise and make use of customer data. Smooch will build on that strategy to bring in data to Sunshine from messaging apps and the interactions that take place on them. Also last year, Zendesk launched an omnichannel play, a platform called The Suite, which it says “has become one of our most successful products ever,” with a 400 percent rise in its customers taking an omnichannel approach. Smooch already forms a key part of that, and it will be even more tightly so.

On the outbound side, for now, there will be two areas where Smooch will be used, Wolverton said. First will be on the basic level of giving Zendesk users the ability to see and create messaging app discussions within a dashboard where they are able to monitor and handle all customer relationship contacts: a conversation that was inititated now on, say, Twitter, can be easily moved into WhatsApp or whatever more direct channel someone wants to use.

Second, Wolverton said that customer care workers can use Smooch to send on “micro apps” to users to handle routine service enquiries, for example sending them links to make or change seat assignments on a flight.

Over time, the plan will be to bring in more automated options into the experience, which opens the door for using more AI and potentially bots down the line.

The Exit: Getaround’s $300M roadtrip

In August of last year, Getaround scored $300 million from Softbank. Eight months later they handed that same amount to Drivy, a Parisian peer-to-peer car rental service that was Getaround’s ticket to tapping into European markets.

Both companies shared similar visions for the future of car ownership, they were about the same size, both were flirting with expanding beyond their home market, but only one had the power of the Vision Fund behind it.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. [Have feedback? Shoot me an email at lucas@techcrunch.com] 

Alven Capital’s Jeremy Uzan

Alven Capital partner Jeremy Uzan first invested in Drivy’s seed round in 2013. Uzan joined Index Ventures co-leading a $2 million round that valued the company at less than $10 million. The firms would later join forces again for the company’s $8.3 million Series A.

I chatted at length with Uzan about what lies ahead for the Drive team, what Paris’s startup scene is still in desperate need of, and how Softbank’s power is becoming even more impossible to ignore.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Getting the checkbook

Lucas Matney: So before we dive into this acquisition, tell me a little bit about how you got to the point where you were writing these checks in the first place.

Jeremy Uzan: So, I studied computer science and business and then spent three years as a tech banker. I was actually in a very small investment banking boutique in Paris helping young startups to raise their Series A rounds. They were all French companies, my first deal was with the YouTube competitor DailyMotion.

Starbucks’ Chinese nemesis surges 20% in public debut

Shares of Luckin Coffee jumped 20% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq stock market.

After opening at $17.00, shares of the Chinese Starbucks competitor climbed as high as $25.96, or more than 50%, before settling back down to $20.38 at the market’s close. The company has a market cap north of $5 billion after its first day of trading.

The brick-and-mortar coffee chain has achieved major success in China by offering speedy delivery services to Chinese consumers. The company has nearly 2,400 stores compared to Starbucks’ 3,500, but it has plans to more than double that number by the end of the year as it seeks to become the country’s coffee king.

Luckin’s success doesn’t immediately seem to be thwarting the stock market success of Starbucks, which has had a glowing 2019. The company hit another all-time high Friday, closing out the day at $78.91, up more than 35% from a year ago, giving the Seattle company a market cap of nearly $96 billion.

Starbucks and Luckin Coffee may seem like mortal enemies, but their rivalry is more complicated than one might immediately think. Check out our Extra Crunch deep dive from earlier this week on the Xiamen-based company’s financials.

Fastly pops in public offering showing that there’s still money for tech IPOs

Shares of Fastly, the service that’s used by websites to ensure that they can load faster, have popped in its first hours of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company, which priced its public offering at around $16 — the top of the estimated range for its public offering — have risen more than 50% since their debut on public markets to trade at $25.01.

It’s a sharp contrast to the public offering last week from Uber, which is only just now scratching back to its initial offering price after a week of trading underwater, and an indicator that there’s still some open space in the IPO window for companies to raise money on public markets, despite ongoing uncertainties stemming from the trade war with China.

Compared with other recent public offerings, Fastly’s balance sheet looks pretty okay. Its losses are narrowing (both on an absolute and per-share basis according to its public filing), but the company is paying more for its revenue.

San Francisco-based Fastly competes with companies that include Akamai, Amazon, Cisco and Verizon, providing data centers and a content-distribution service to deliver videos from companies like The New York Times, Ticketmaster, New Relic and Spotify.

Last year, the company reported revenues of $144.6 million and a net loss of $30.9 million, up from $104.9 million in revenue and $32.5 million in losses in the year ago period. Revenue was up more than 38% and losses narrowed by 5% over the course of the year.

The outcome is a nice win for Fastly investors, including August Capital, Iconiq Strategic Partners, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Amplify Partners, which backed the company with $219 million in funding over the eight years since Artur Bergman founded the business in 2011.

China’s Luckin Coffee raises up to $651M in upsized US IPO

Another week, another cash-burning tech IPO in the U.S. Following on from Uber’s high-profile listing, ambitious Chinese startup Luckin Coffee has raised up to $650.8 million on the Nasdaq after it priced its shares at $17.

Despite concern at its high losses and little chance of near-term profitability, Luckin seems to have been greeted positively by investors. The company priced its shares at the top of its $15-$17 range and it upsized the share offering to 33 million, three million more than previously planned. That gives Luckin an initial net raise of $571.2 million, although that could increase to $650.8 million if underwriters take up the full additional allocation of 4.95 million “greenshoe” shares that are on offer.

The company will list on Friday under the ticker “LK.”

Luckin filed to go public last month, just weeks after it closed a $150 million Series B+ funding round led by New York private equity firm Blackrock, which interestingly holds a 6.58% stake in Starbucks. The deal valued Luckin at $2.9 billion and it took the three-year-old company to $550 million raised from investors to date.

The company has burned through incredible amounts of cash as it tries to quickly build a brand that competes with Starbucks, and the presence that the U.S. firm has built over the last 20 years in China. Through aggressive promotions and coupons, the company posted a $475 million loss in 2018, its only full year of business to date, with $125 million in revenue. For the first quarter of 2019, it carded an $85 million loss with total sales of $71 million.

We recently went in-depth on the business, which you can read here with a subscription to our Extra Crunch service, but we’ve long covered the startup’s “money is no object” approach to building a digital rival to Starbucks in China.