All posts in “Venture Capital”

VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’

The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago.

Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt.

“It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, which backs seed-stage companies based outside Silicon Valley. “It’s not as a hard to make a difference as a successful entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio.”

In conversation with Vance, Revolution CEO Steve Case said he’s noticed a “mega-trend” emerging. Founders from cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Portland are opting to stay in their hometowns instead of moving to U.S. innovation hubs like San Francisco.

“The sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

“We are seeing the beginnings of a slowing of what has been a brain drain the last 20 years,” Case said. “It’s not just watching where the capital flows, it’s watching where the talent flows. And the sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

Farewell, San Francisco

“It’s too expensive to live here,” said Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage VC firm Cowboy Ventures, amid a conversation with leading venture capitalists Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn and Benchmark general partner Sarah Tavel .

“I know that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area that are trying to work on that problem and I hope that they are successful,” Lee added. “It’s an amazing place to live and we’ve made it really challenging for people to live here and not worry about making ends meet.”

One of Cowboy’s portfolio companies opted to relocate from Silicon Valley to Colorado when it came time to scale their business. That kind of move would’ve historically been seen as a failure. Today, it may be a sign of strong business acumen.

Quinn said that of all 28 of Spark’s growth-stage portfolio companies, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pendo has the easiest time recruiting folks locally and from the Bay Area.

She advises her Bay Area-based late-stage companies to open a second office outside of the Valley where lower-cost talent is available.

“We often say go to [flySFO.com], draw a three-hour circle around San Francisco where they have direct flights, find a city that has a university and open up a second office as quickly as possible,” Quinn said.

Still, all three firms invest in a lot of companies based in San Francisco. Of Benchmark’s 10 most recent investments, for example, eight were based in SF, according to Crunchbase.

“I used to believe really strongly if you wanted to build a multi-billion dollar company you had to be based here,” Tavel said. “I’ve stopped giving that soap speech.”

Underestimated talent

A lot of Bay Area VCs have been blind to the droves of tech talent located outside the region. Believe it or not, there are great engineers in America’s small- and medium-sized markets too.

At Disrupt, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton announced the firm would launch an accelerator to further amplify companies led by underestimated founders. The program will have cohorts based in four cities; San Francisco was noticeably absent from that list.

Instead, the firm, which invests in underrepresented founders and recently raised a $36 million fund, will work with companies in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and one more city, which will be determined by a public vote. Aniyia Williams, the founder of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders, will spearhead the Philadelphia effort.

“For us, it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said. “There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

Hamilton added that for her, the tech talent in LA and London is undeniable.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors … it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” Hamilton said.

Silicon Valley vs. China

Silicon Valley’s demise may not be just as a result of increased costs of living or investors overlooking talent in other geographies. It may be because of heightened competition abroad.

Doug Leone, an early- and growth-stage investor at Sequoia Capital, said at Disrupt that he’s noticed a very different work ethic in China.

Chinese entrepreneurs, he explained, are more ruthless than their American counterparts and they’re putting in a whole lot more hours.

“I’ve had dinner in China until after 10 p.m. and people go to work after 10 p.m.,” Leone recalled.

“We don’t see that in the U.S. I’m not saying the U.S. founders oughta do that but those are the differences. They are similar in character. They are similar in dreams. They are similar in how they want to change the world. They are ultra-driven … The Chinese founders have a half other gear because I think they are a little more desperate.”

Much of this, however, has been said before and still, somehow, Silicon Valley remained the place to be for investors and startup entrepreneurs.

The reality is, those engaged in tech culture are always anxiously awaiting for the bubble to pop, the market to crash and for “peak Valley” to finally arrive.

Maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley is forever.

Here’s more of our coverage of Disrupt 2018.

Wove raises $9M to help companies form strategic marketing partnerships

After rebranding earlier this year and scrapping pretty much their whole mobile ads business, Wove, formerly known as TapFwd, has a fresh plan to disrupt the marketing industry.

Co-founders Eddie Siegel and Alex Wasserman have built what they call a brand collaboration network, a new way for companies to form marketing partnerships with similar brands. They say sourcing and closing a deal with another company on Wove is as easy as sending a Facebook friend request.

“Marketers don’t want to sell data with each other and they don’t want to share data with each other,” Siegel told TechCrunch. “They want to grow their core business and leverage their data assets without having to share it with another company, and they need a third party network to form these partnerships.”

With the launch of their latest product comes new money: Wove has raised $9 million in a round led by August Capital, with participation from new investors Origin Ventures, Walmart’s SVP of U.S. e-commerce Anthony Soohoo, Canaan Partners general partner Deepak Kamra and existing investors Partech Partners, Angel Pad and Tekton Ventures. Partech previously led TapFwd’s $3 million seed round.

To develop a marketing partnership with Wove, a company has to sign up and pay an annual fee. Once you have an account, Wove will make recommendations of companies — other Wove users — to work with based on their market and/or customer demographic. When a pair of companies express mutual interest, Wove handles the execution and measures the effectiveness of the partnership with its suite of digital tools built into the platform.

Here’s an example of a hypothetical partnership born out of Wove: A dog-walking startup like Wag logs onto Wove and is matched with Ollie, a dog food startup. The pair agree to set up a short-term promotion, providing discounts to Ollie customers if they set up a Wag account and vice versa. Wove then negotiates the terms of the partnership, develops the promotional materials and ultimately determines how well that partnership bolstered the businesses. 

The idea for this marketing matchmaking service came, Siegel says, from TapFwd’s customers.

“We got here because our customers pulled us over here,” Siegel said. “This originally grew as a pretty organic side project and now we are catching up to the customer demand. We have a lot more demand than we can service.”

With the $9 million investment, the San Francisco-based startup, which counts HotelTonight, Turo and Winc as customers, plans to scale its engineering team.

August Capital’s Howard Hartenbaum has joined the startup’s board of directors as part of the round.

‘Brotopia’ inspired OODA Health to raise its $40.5M round only from firm’s with female partners

It’s never particularly easy to raise a round of venture capital — but I think most experienced founders will tell you its not quite as bad the second or third time around, when you’ve got some experience under your belt and a track record to present to VCs.

It helps if you’re male too, at least according to all the data out there on the gender funding gap in VC.

The leadership team at OODA Health, a startup developing technology to make the U.S. healthcare payment system more efficient, is both male and experienced. But unlike most companies of that nature, OODA decided to raise money for the business only from VC firms that have at least one female leader, a solution to one of tech’s greatest problems that is oft suggested and rarely executed.

“‘Brotopia’ really hit me hard,” OODA Health co-founder and CEO Giovanni Colella told TechCrunch.

Colella is the founder and former CEO of Castlight Health, which raised nearly $200 million in VC funding before going public on the NYSE in 2014. Co-founder and COO Seth Cohen is Castlight’s former VP of sales and alliances and co-founder and CTO Usama Fayyad is the former global chief data officer at Barclays and Yahoo .

The trio ultimately landed on lead investors Annie Lamont of Oak HC/FT and Emily Melton of DFJ, both of which have joined the company’s board of directors.

We have a responsibility of setting an example,” Colella said. “There is no machismo in what we’ve done. We are not better than you because we did it. We were blessed. We had more investors that wanted to invest than we could accommodate.”

Though the company’s c-suite is occupied by men, Cohen and Colella were quick to clarify that the rest of their founding team, head of operations Julie Skaff, head of product Sophie Pinkard and director of product strategy Midori Uehara, are women.

The team began working on OODA Health last year after Colella and Cohen agreed to build something that would upend the healthcare industry. Healthcare, they realized, is at least 20 years behind the advances in financial tech.

The pair said their real aha moment was when they learned even insurance companies — the real laggards — are ready to be rid of the slow, futile billing and payment methods that accompany any and every doctor and hospital visit.

“The idea of submitting a claim and not knowing when you are going to get reimbursed or get a bill, that has been the same for decades,” Cohen told TechCrunch. “Imagine, today, if you took a Visa card and you went to a restaurant … and then a month later received a bill, that’s how healthcare works.”

If OODA has their way, paying for a doctor’s visit will be more like paying for a hotel. You’re told upfront what you owe and you work exclusively with the insurance company to make that payment. And in this idyllic future, you won’t receive an “explanation of benefits” notice in the mail as well as a bill and subsequently fall into a downward spiral of confusion, stress and frustration.

Headquartered in San Francisco, OODA has teamed with several big-name insurance providers, including Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Blue Shield of California, Zaffre Investments, Dignity Health and Hill Physicians to make this happen.

As far as lifting up women in VC, that’s purely been a side benefit of the overall operation.

“At the end of the day, we found two of the best investors to back us,” Cohen said.

The Gap Table: Women own just 9% of startup equity

Even bigger than the salary gap that sees women earn $.82 on the dollar is the equity gap. A new study from Carta and the ex-Twitter female investor group #Angels reveals that women make up 35 percent of startup equity-holding employees, yet own just 20 percent of the equity. That means they own just $0.47 for every $1 that men own. Even worse, women account for 13 percent of startup founder but just 6 percent of founder equity — or merely $0.39 on the dollar.

Combined, that means only 9 percent of founder and employee startup equity is owned by women.

“This is not just about wealth” says #Angels’ Chloe Sladden. “Wealth from successful exits goes on to shape the entire industry. It’s about who has power and who gets to decide what gets funded.” #Angels’ Jessica Verrilli notes that “Having this data is going to  be a watershed moment and catalyze more urgency to address this underrepresentation.”

The study by cap table management tool Carta (formerly eShares) looked at a subset of its privately held company customers including roughly 180,000 employees, 15,000 founders, and 6,000 companies encompassing $45 billion in equity value.

#Angels’ Jana Messerschmidt explains that the gap table spotlights how women aren’t being hired for early engineering and leadership poisitions. These roles often get the lion’s share of equity, and when women are hired for sales, marketing, and HR jobs, “those folks are getting less equity because they are joining later and we have a hypothesis of how those roles are valued differently.” Sladden reminds founders to focus on diversity from day one. “Don’t push this off as something you’ll fix down the road as you’re facing all the other challenges.”

Once a successful startup gets acquired or IPOs and paper money turns into cash, tech workers often reinvest their winnings into more startups as angels, fund LPs, or by starting their own venture firm. If only men are getting enough equity to make those downstream investments, their biases could further unbalance the gender breakdown of the tech industry. The #Angels say they’ve found this translates into fewer fundraising term sheets and bargaining power for female founders when they come to the Sand Hill Road boy’s club for venture capital.

Beyond more diverse hiring, the #Angels believe it’s critical that the industry dymystify equity so more women know how to exercise stock options and score tax advantages for maximum gain. “You shouldn’t need to have an MBA to know the importance of equity and how to negotiate for it” says Sladden. Better financing avenues for those women who need up-front capital to exercise their stock options could also ensure it’s not just those who already have money who can make money through equity.

Sladden concludes, “We hope this is going to start a movement. We hope that CEOs will start to measure it and talk about it.”

Indigo raises $250M, launches marketplace to help farmers get paid for quality grain

Indigo, the startup bringing algorithms and machine learning to the agricultural industry, has raised a $250 million Series E, bringing its total raised to $650 million.

The funding values the company at $3.5 billion, according to a source familiar with the deal. That’s a steep increase from its previously reported value: $1.4 billion with a $156 million Series D last September. Existing investors Baillie Gifford, the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and Flagship Pioneering participated in the round. New investors, who Indigo declined to name, also participated.

Indigo initially launched in 2014 to help farmers improve the health and productivity of their crops with microbial products that protect against the environment, disease and pest stress. Now, the company is expanding its suite of digital tools with the launch of Indigo Marketplace, which is essentially eBay for farmers.

Indigo CEO David Perry, who grew up on a farm in Arkansas, told TechCrunch Indigo expects to do $500 million in bookings this year thanks to the early growth of the new product. That’s more than 8x growth YoY.

Indigo first began rolling out the online grain marketplace to its network of farmers in June and has since seen more than $6 billion worth of grain put up for sale by farmers. Buyers have placed more than 4,000 bids worth $2 billion.

Perry, a serial entrepreneur — he co-founded Better Therapeutics and Anacor Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired for $5.2 billion by Pfizer — says Indigo’s marketplace has had the most rapid adoption of any product launch he’s been associated with in his career.

“It’s part of a bigger plan,” he said. “We knew microbiology was a cornerstone to changing agriculture but it couldn’t do it by itself.”

Using Indigo Marketplace, buyers can purchase grain directly from farmers. They can filter by protein content, milling quality or by production practices, i.e. whether it’s organic or not. Growers are paid based on the quality of their crop, which is determined by a sample sent to a third-party lab for analysis.

Indigo manages the testing, the transportation of the crop and the payment through its new platform. 

Venture capital investment in agtech has been steadily growing in the last decade with more and more early-stage startups emerging to compete with the Big 6 of agriculture: Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta and BASF.

The industry, according to agtech firm Finistere Ventures, has transitioned “from a niche, opportunistic clade of the venture capital investment class, to a legitimate asset class attracting focused and generalist funds.”

As for Indigo, it has been and continues to be the most valuable private agtech startup.