Wall Street investors can be fickle beasts. Take Salesforce as an example. The CRM giant announced a $ 5.82 billion quarter when it reported earnings yesterday. Revenue was up 20% year over year. The company also reported $ 21.25 billion in total revenue for the just-closed FY2021, up 24% YoY. If that wasn’t enough, it raised its FY2022 guidance (its upcoming fiscal year) to over $ 25 billion. What’s not to like?
You want higher quarterly revenue, Salesforce gave you higher revenue. You want high growth and solid projected revenue — check and check. In fact, it’s hard to find anything to complain about in the report. The company is performing and growing at a rate that is remarkable for an organization of its size and maturity — and it is expected to continue to perform and grow.
How did Wall Street react to this stellar report? It punished the stock with the price down over 6%, a pretty dismal day considering the company brought home such a promising report card.
So what is going on here? It could be that investors simply don’t believe the growth is sustainable or that the company overpaid when it bought Slack at the end of last year for over $ 27 billion. It could be it’s just people overreacting to a cooling market this week. But if investors are looking for a high-growth company, Salesforce is delivering that.
While Slack was expensive, it reported revenue over $ 250 million yesterday, pushing it over the $ 1 billion run rate with more than 100 customers paying over $ 1 million in ARR. Those numbers will eventually get added to Salesforce’s bottom line.
Canaccord Genuity analyst David Hynes Jr. wrote that he was baffled by investors’ reaction to this report. Like me, he saw a lot of positives. Yet Wall Street decided to focus on the negative, and see “the glass half empty,” as he put it in his note to investors.
“The stock is clearly in the show-me camp, which means it’s likely to take another couple of quarters for investors to buy into the idea that fundamentals are actually quite solid here, and that Slack was opportunistic (and yes, pricey), but not an attempt to mask suddenly deteriorating growth,” Hynes wrote.
During the call with analysts yesterday, Brad Zelnick from Credit Suisse asked how well the company could accelerate out of the pandemic-induced economic malaise, and Gavin Patterson, Salesforce’s president and chief revenue officer, says the company is ready whenever the world moves past the pandemic.
“And let me reassure you, we are building the capability in terms of the sales force. You’d be delighted to hear that we’re investing significantly in terms of our direct sales force to take advantage of that demand. And I’m very confident we’ll be able to meet it. So I think you’re hearing today a message from us all that the business is strong, the pipeline is strong and we’ve got confidence going into the year,” Patterson said.
While Salesforce execs were clearly pumped up yesterday with good reason, there’s still doubt out in investor land that manifested itself in the stock starting down and staying down all day. It will be, as Hynes suggested, up to Salesforce to keep proving them wrong. As long as they keep producing quarters like the one they had this week, they should be just fine, regardless of what the naysayers on Wall Street may be thinking today.
It would be an understatement to say that enterprise-focused startups have fared well during the pandemic. As organizations look to go remote, and the way we work has been flipped on its head, quickly-growing tech companies that simplify this transition are in high demand.
One such startup has, in fact, raised $ 61.5 million in the last 12 months alone. Electric, a company looking to put IT departments in the cloud, just announced the close of a $ 40 million Series C round. This comes after an extension of its Series B in March of 2020, when it raised $ 14.5 million, and then an additional $ 7 million from 01 Advisors in May of 2020.
This Series C round was led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, GGV Capital, 01 Advisors, Primary Venture Partners as well as new investors including Atreides Management and Vintage Investment Partners.
Electric launched in 2016 with a mission to make IT much simpler for small and medium-sized businesses. Rather than bringing on a dedicated IT department, or contracting out high-priced local service providers, Electric’s software allows one admin to manage devices, software subscriptions, permissions and more.
According to founder Ryan Denehy, the vast majority of IT’s work is administration, distribution, and maintenance of the broad variety of software programs at any given company. Electric does most of that job on behalf of IT, meaning that a smaller business only needs to worry about desk-side troubleshooting when it comes up, rather than the whole kit and caboodle.
Electric charges a flat price per seat per month, and Denehy says the company more than doubled its customer base in the last year. It now supports around 25,000 users across more than 400 individual customer organizations, which puts Electric just shy of $ 20 million ARR.
This is the first time Denehy has come anywhere close to sharing revenue numbers publicly, but it’s a good time to flex. The company has recently introduced a new lighter-weight offering that includes all of the same functionality as its more expensive product, but without access to chat functionality.
“The name of the game is just simplicity, simplicity, simplicity,” said Denehy. “Part of this is in response to the fact that people are realizing the permanence of hybrid work. During the pandemic, people stopped paying their landlords but they didn’t stop paying us. So in the summer, we started to focus on how we can create more offerings that we can get in the hands of more businesses and let them start their journey with us.”
Denehy says that a little less than half of Electric’s client base are tech startups, which makes sense considering the company launched in New York in a tech and media-centric ecosystem. As a way to expand into other verticals, Electric acquired Sinu, an IT service provider who happened to have an impressive roster of clients outside of Electric’s comfort zone, such as legal, accounting and non-profit.
Here’s what Denehy said at the time:
Organic market entry, even in adjacent markets can be extremely time consuming and expensive. Sinu’s team has done an excellent job winning and pleasing customers in a lot of industries where we currently don’t play but probably should. The combination of our two companies is a massive shot in the arm to our national expansion strategy.
Alongside growth, both of the Electric team and its customer base, the company is also investing in expanding its diversity programs and philanthropic efforts.
The Electric team is currently made up of just under 250 full-time employees, with 32.5 percent women and around 30 percent of employees being non-white. Specifically, nearly 12 percent of employees are Black and 10 percent are Latinx.
Denehy explained that he thinks of the company’s payroll, which is in the tens of millions of dollars, as one of the biggest ways he can make a change in the world.
“We will wait longer to fill a role to make sure that we have the most diverse pipeline of candidates possible,” said Denehy. “A lot of founders will say that nobody applied. Well, the reality is you didn’t look hard enough. We’ve just accepted that like it may take us longer to fill certain roles.”
This latest round brings Electric’s total funding to more than $ 100 million.
In 2017, Ironclad founder and CEO Jason Boehmig was looking to raise a Series A. As a former lawyer, Boehmig had a specific process for fundraising and an ultimate goal of finding the right investors for his company.
Part of Boehmig’s process was to ask people in the San Francisco Bay Area about their favorite place to work. Many praised RelateIQ, a company founded by Steve Loughlin who had sold it to Salesforce for $ 390 million and was brand new to venture at the time.
“I wanted to meet Steve and had kind of put two and two together,” said Boehmig. “I was like, ‘There’s this founder I’ve been meaning to connect with anyways, just to pick his brain, about how to build a great company, and he also just became an investor.’”
On this week’s Extra Crunch Live, the duo discussed how the Ironclad pitch excited Loughlin about leading the round. (So excited, in fact, he signed paperwork in the hospital on the same day his child was born.) They also discussed how they’ve managed to build trust by working through disagreements and the challenges of pricing and packaging enterprise products.
As with every episode of Extra Crunch Live, they also gave feedback on pitch decks submitted by the audience. (If you’d like to see your deck featured on a future episode, send it to us using this form.)
- The pitch — 2:30
- How they operate — 23:00
- The problem of pricing — 29:00
- Pitch deck teardown — 35:00
When Boehmig came in to pitch Accel, Loughlin remembers feeling ambivalent. He had heard about the company and knew a former lawyer was coming in to pitch a legal tech company. He also trusted the reference who had introduced him to Boehmig, and thought, “I’ll take the meeting.”
Then, Boehmig dove into the pitch. The company had about a dozen customers that were excited about the product, and a few who were expanding use of the product across the organization, but it wasn’t until the ultimate vision of Ironclad was teased that Loughlin perked up.
Loughlin realized that the contract can be seen as a core object that could be used to collaborate horizontally across the enterprise.
“That was when the lightbulb went off and I realized this is actually much bigger,” said Loughlin. “This is not a legal tech company. This is core horizontal enterprise collaboration in one of the areas that has not been solved yet, where there is no great software yet for legal departments to collaborate with their counterparts.”
He listed all the software that those same counterparts had to let them collaborate: Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk. Any investor would be excited to hear that a potential portfolio company could match the likes of those behemoths. Loughlin was hooked.
“There was a slide that I’m guessing Jason didn’t think much of, as it was just the data around the business, but I got pretty excited about it,” said Loughlin. “It said, for every legal user Ironclad added, they added nine other users from departments like sales, marketing, customer service, etc. It was evidence that this theory of collaboration could be true at scale.”
Typically when we talk about tech and security, the mind naturally jumps to cybersecurity. But equally important, especially for global companies with large, multinational organizations, is physical security — a key function at most medium-to-large enterprises, and yet one that to date, hasn’t really done much to take advantage of recent advances in technology. Enter Base Operations, a startup founded by risk management professional Cory Siskind in 2018. Base Operations just closed their $ 2.2 million seed funding round and will use the money to capitalize on its recent launch of a street-level threat mapping platform for use in supporting enterprise security operations.
The funding, led by Good Growth Capital and including investors like Magma Partners, First In Capital, Gaingels and First Round Capital founder Howard Morgan, will be used primarily for hiring, as Base Operations looks to continue its team growth after doubling its employe base this past month. It’ll also be put to use extending and improving the company’s product and growing the startup’s global footprint. I talked to Siskind about her company’s plans on the heels of this round, as well as the wider opportunity and how her company is serving the market in a novel way.
“What we do at Base Operations is help companies keep their people in operation secure with ‘Micro Intelligence,’ which is street-level threat assessments that facilitate a variety of routine security tasks in the travel security, real estate and supply chain security buckets,” Siskind explained. “Anything that the chief security officer would be in charge of, but not cyber — so anything that intersects with the physical world.”
Siskind has firsthand experience about the complexity and challenges that enter into enterprise security since she began her career working for global strategic risk consultancy firm Control Risks in Mexico City. Because of her time in the industry, she’s keenly aware of just how far physical and political security operations lag behind their cybersecurity counterparts. It’s an often overlooked aspect of corporate risk management, particularly since in the past it’s been something that most employees at North American companies only ever encounter periodically when their roles involve frequent travel. The events of the past couple of years have changed that, however.
“This was the last bastion of a company that hadn’t been optimized by a SaaS platform, basically, so there was some resistance and some allegiance to legacy players,” Siskind told me. “However, the events of 2020 sort of turned everything on its head, and companies realized that the security department, and what happens in the physical world, is not just about compliance — it’s actually a strategic advantage to invest in those sort of services, because it helps you maintain business continuity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, and global political unrest all had significant impact on businesses worldwide in 2020, and Siskind says that this has proven a watershed moment in how enterprises consider physical security in their overall risk profile and strategic planning cycles.
“[Companies] have just realized that if you don’t invest [in] how to keep your operations running smoothly in the face of rising catastrophic events, you’re never going to achieve the profits that you need, because it’s too choppy, and you have all sorts of problems,” she said.
Base Operations addresses this problem by taking available data from a range of sources and pulling it together to inform threat profiles. Their technology is all about making sense of the myriad stream of information we encounter daily — taking the wash of news that we sometimes associate with “doom-scrolling” on social media, for instance, and combining it with other sources using machine learning to extrapolate actionable insights.
Those sources of information include “government statistics, social media, local news, data from partnerships, like NGOs and universities,” Siskind said. That data set powers their Micro Intelligence platform, and while the startup’s focus today is on helping enterprises keep people safe, while maintaining their operations, you can easily see how the same information could power everything from planning future geographical expansion, to tailoring product development to address specific markets.
Siskind saw there was a need for this kind of approach to an aspect of business that’s essential, but that has been relatively slow to adopt new technologies. From her vantage point two years ago, however, she couldn’t have anticipated just how urgent the need for better, more scalable enterprise security solutions would arise, and Base Operations now seems perfectly positioned to help with that need.
SentinelOne, a late-stage security startup that helps customers make sense of security data using AI and machine learning, announced today that it is acquiring Scalyr, the high-speed logging startup for $ 155 million in stock and cash.
SentinelOne sorts through oodles of data to help customers understand their security posture, and having a tool that enables engineers to iterate rapidly in the data, and get to the root of the problem is going to be extremely valuable for them, CEO and co-founder Tomer Weingarten explained. “We thought Scalyr would be just an amazing fit to our continued vision in how we secure data at scale for every enterprise [customer] out there,” he told me.
He said they spent a lot of time shopping for a company that could meet their unique scaling needs and when they came across Scalyr, they saw the potential pretty quickly with a company that has built a real-time data lake. “When we look at the scale of our technology, we obviously scoured the world to find the best data analytics technology out there. We [believe] we found something incredibly special when we found a platform that can ingest data, and make it accessible in real time,” Weingarten explained.
He believes the real time element is a game changer because it enables customers to prevent breaches, rather than just reacting to them. “If you’re thinking about mitigating attacks or reacting to attacks, if you can do that in real time and you can process data in real time, and find the anomalies in real time and then meet them, you’re turning into a system that can actually deflect the attacks and not just see them and react to them,” he explained.
The company sees Scalyr as a product they can integrate into the platform, but also one which will remain a stand-alone. That means existing customers should be able to continue using Scalyr as before, while benefiting from having a larger company contributing to its R&D.
While SentinelOne is not a public company, it is a pretty substantial private one, having raised over $ 695 million, according to Crunchbase data. The company’s most recent funding round came last November, a $ 267 million investment with a $ 3.1 billion valuation.
As for Scalyr it was launched in 2011 by Steve Newman, who first built a word processor called Writely and sold it to Google in 2006. It was actually the basis for what became Google Docs. Newman stuck around and started building the infrastructure to scale Google Docs, and he used that experience and knowledge to build Scalyr. The startup raised $ 27 million along the way, according to Crunchbase data including a $ 20 million Series A investment in 2017.
The deal will close this quarter, and when it does Scalyr’s 45 employees will be joining SentinelOne.
Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt discuss pitch decks, pricing and how to nail the narrative
Before he was a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Gaurav Gupta had his eye on Grafana Labs, the company that supports open-source analytics platform Grafana. But Raj Dutt, Grafana’s co-founder and CEO, played hard to get.
This week on Extra Crunch Live, the duo explained how they came together for Grafana’s Series A — and eventually, its Series B. They also walked us through Grafana’s original Series A pitch deck before Gupta shared the aspects that stood out to him and how he communicated those points to the broader partnership at Lightspeed.
Gupta and Dutt also offered feedback on pitch decks submitted by audience members and shared their thoughts about what makes a great founder presentation, pulling back the curtain on how VCs actually consume pitch decks.
We’ve included highlights below as well as the full video of our conversation.
We record new episodes of Extra Crunch Live each Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. Check out the February schedule here.
- How they met — 2:20
- Grafana’s early pitch deck — 12:25
- The enterprise ecosystem — 26:00
- The pitch deck teardown — 33:00
How they met
As soon as Gupta joined Lightspeed in June 2019, he began pursuing Dutt and Grafana Labs. He texted, called and emailed, but he got little to no response. Eventually, he made plans to go meet the team in Stockholm but, even then, Dutt wasn’t super responsive.
The pair told the story with smiles on their faces. Dutt said that not only was he disorganized and not entirely sure of his own travel plans to see his co-founder in Stockholm, Grafana wasn’t even raising. Still, Gupta persisted and eventually sent a stern email.
“At one point, I was like ‘Raj, forget it. This isn’t working’,” recalled Gupta. “And suddenly he woke up.” Gupta added that he got mad, which “usually does not work for VCs, by the way, but in this case, it kind of worked.”
When they finally met, they got along. Dutt said they were able to talk shop due to Gupta’s experience inside organizations like Splunk and Elastic. Gupta described the trip as a whirlwind, where time just flew by.
“One of the reasons that I liked Gaurav is that he was a new VC,” explained Dutt. “So to me, he seemed like one of the most non-VC VCs I’d ever met. And that was actually quite attractive.”
To this day, Gupta and Dutt don’t have weekly standing meetings. Instead, they speak several times a week, conversing organically about industry news, Grafana’s products and the company’s overall trajectory.
Grafana’s early pitch deck
Dutt shared Grafana’s pre-Series A pitch deck — which he actually sent to Gupta and Lightspeed before they met — with the Extra Crunch Live audience. But as we know now, it was the conversations that Dutt and Gupta had (eventually) that provided the spark for that deal.
Atlassian has made it clear for some time that it’s all in on the cloud, but now it’s official. The company stopped selling new on-prem licenses as of yesterday. Perhaps to take away the sting of that move for large organizations, today it announced a new all-inclusive enterprise pricing tier.
Atlassian chief revenue officer Cameron Deatsch says that previously the company had offered a free tier and then standard and premium level paid tiers. “And now this cloud Enterprise Edition will be our highest tier, and what this will allow is for the most complex deployments, the largest customers who need unlimited scale, the customers that have all the security and regulatory requirements, data residency, you name it, — that is what we’re launching starting [today],” Deatsch told me.
What the enterprise tier delivers is unlimited instances across the Atlassian product line for each enterprise customer. That means a big company with multiple divisions could, for instance, have 20 instances of Jira and Trello deployed with one for each division and a central management console, while paying a single price regardless of how much they use.
While the company is supporting existing on-prem customers until 2024, the idea is to now move them to the cloud and this offering should help. One thing we have clearly seen is that the pandemic has accelerated the move to the cloud by companies of every size, and this should encourage the company’s largest customers to make the move.
“The reality is, the demand was there, which was great to see, but we actually had this huge pipeline of our largest customers, basically trying to build their plan over the next couple of years to get to our cloud. The general availability of our Enterprise Edition is going to accelerate that even more,” he said.
It’s a move the company has been working towards for some time, but it really began to take shape when they shifted their operations to AWS and rebuilt the entire stack as a set of microservices beginning in 2016. This was the first step towards being able to handle the increased kinds of workloads an enterprise tier would require.
The company reported earnings at the end of last month with revenue of $ 501.4 million up 23% YoY with over 11,000 net new subscribers, a record for the company. The new enterprise tier won’t help with new customer volume, but it should help with overall revenue as more customers look for cloud solutions and pricing that meets their needs.
Edtech is so widespread, we already need more consumer-friendly nomenclature to describe the products, services and tools it encompasses.
I know someone who reads stories to their grandchildren on two continents via Zoom each weekend. Is that “edtech?”
Similarly, many Netflix subscribers sought out online chess instructors after watching “The Queen’s Gambit,” but I doubt if they all ran searches for “remote learning” first.
Edtech needs to reach beyond underfunded public school systems to become more sustainable, which is why more investors and founders are focusing on lifelong learning.
Besides serving traditional students with field trips and art classes, a maturing sector is now branching out to offer software tutors, cooking classes and singing lessons.
For our latest investor survey, Natasha Mascarenhas polled 13 edtech VCs to learn more about how “employer-led up-skilling and a renewed interest in self-improvement” is expanding the sector’s TAM.
Here’s who she spoke to:
- Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures
- Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures (a future of work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
- Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
- John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future of work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
- Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multistage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever and Outschool)
- Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly valued companies including Byju’s, Newsela and Masterclass)
- Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy and BibliU)
- Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer and Aula)
- Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
- Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher ed and future of work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
- Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
- Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)
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In other news: Extra Crunch Live, a series of interviews with leading investors and entrepreneurs, returns next month with a full slate of guests. This year, we’re adding a new feature: Our guests will analyze pitch decks submitted by members of the audience to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’d like an expert eye on your deck, please sign up for Extra Crunch and join the conversation.
Thanks very much for reading! I hope you have a fantastic weekend — we’ve all earned it.
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
13 investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream
Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
After falling into yesterday’s wild news cycle, Alex Wilhelm returned to The Exchange this morning with a close look at venture capital activity across Africa in 2020.
“Comparing aggregate 2020 figures to 2019 results, it appears that last year was a somewhat robust year for African startups, albeit one with fewer large rounds,” he found.
For more context, he interviewed Dario Giuliani, the director of research firm Briter Bridges, which focuses on emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley
New cybersecurity ecosystems are popping up in different parts of the world.
Some of of that growth has been fueled by an exodus from the Bay Area, but many early-stage security startups already have deep roots in East Coast cities like Boston and New York.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, government innovation programs have helped entrepreneurs close higher numbers of Series A and B rounds.
Investor interest and expertise is migrating out of Silicon Valley: This post will help you understand where it’s going.
Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?
Today’s smartphones are unfathomably feature-rich and durable, so it’s logical that sales have slowed.
A phone purchased 18 months ago is probably “good enough” for many consumers, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
Then again, of the record $ 111.4 billion in revenue Apple earned last quarter, $ 65.68 billion came from phone sales, largely driven by the release of the iPhone 12.
Even though “Apple’s success this quarter was kind of a perfect storm,” writes Hardware Editor Brian Heater, “it’s safe to project a rebound for the industry at large in 2021.”
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
Finmark co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid wrote a post for Extra Crunch that candidly describes the traps he laid for himself that made him a less-effective entrepreneur.
As someone who’s worked closely with founders at several startups, each of the points he raised resonated deeply with me.
In my experience, many founders have a hard time delegating, which can quickly create cultural and operational problems. Rami’s experience bears this out:
“I became a human GPS: People could follow my directions, but they struggled to find the way themselves. Independent thinking suffered.”
Dear Sophie: How can I sponsor my mom and stepdad for green cards?
I just got my U.S. citizenship! My husband and I want to bring my mom and her husband to the U.S. to help us take care of our preschooler and toddler.
My biological dad passed away several years ago when I was an adult and my mom has since remarried.
— Appreciative in Aptos
Check out the amazing speakers joining us on Extra Crunch Live in February
Next month, Extra Crunch Live returns with a lineup of guests who are extremely well-qualified to discuss early-stage startups.
Each Wednesday at noon PPST/3 p.m. EST, join a conversation with founders and the investors who backed their companies:
Gaurav Gupta (Lightspeed Venture Partners) + Raj Dutt (Grafana Labs)
Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures) + Kevin Busque (Guideline)
Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad)
Matt Harris (Bain Capital) + Isaac Oates (Justworks)
Also, we’re adding a new feature to Extra Crunch Live — our guests will offer advice and feedback on pitch decks submitted by Extra Crunch members in the audience!
10 VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021
Since the pandemic disrupted the social rhythms of work and school, many of us have compensated by changing our relationship to digital media.
For instance, I purchased a new sofa and thicker living room curtains several months ago when I realized we have no idea when movie theaters will reopen.
Last year, podcast sponsors spent almost $ 800 million to reach listeners, but ad revenue is estimated to surpass $ 1 billion this year. Clearly, I’m not the only person who used a discount code to buy a new product in 2020.
At this point, I can scarcely keep track of the multiple streaming platforms I’m subscribed to, but a new voice-activated remote control that comes with my basic cable plan makes it easier to browse my options.
Media reporter Anthony Ha spoke to10 VCs who invest in media startups to learn more about where they see digital media heading in the months ahead. For starters, how much longer can we expect traditional advertising models to persist?
And in a world with hundreds of channels, how are creators supposed to compete for our attention? What sort of discovery tools can we expect to help us navigate between a police procedural set in a Scandinavian village and a 90s sitcom reboot?
Here’s who Anthony interviewed:
- Daniel Gulati, founding partner, Forecast Fund
- Alex Gurevich, managing director, Javelin Venture Partners
- Matthew Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
- Jerry Lu, senior associate, Maveron
- Jana Messerschmidt, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners
- Michael Palank, general partner, MaC Venture Capital (with additional commentary from MaC’s Marlon Nichols)
- Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner, Northzone
- M.G. Siegler, general partner, GV
- Laurel Touby, managing director, Supernode Ventures
- Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
Normally, we list each investor’s responses separately, but for this survey, we grouped their responses by question. Some readers say they use our surveys to study up on an individual VC before pitching them, so let us know which format you prefer.
Does a $ 27 billion or $ 29 billion valuation make sense for Databricks?
Data analytics platform Databricks is reportedly raising new capital that could value the company between $ 27 billion and $ 29 billion.
By the end of Q3 2020, Databricks had surpassed a $ 350 million run rate — a $ 150 million YoY increase, reports Alex Wilhelm.
At the time, he described the company as “an obvious IPO candidate” with “broad private-market options.”
Which begs the question: “Can we come up with a set of numbers that help make sense of Databricks at $ 27 billion?”
End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business
Rapid shifts in the way we buy goods and services disrupted old-school marketplaces like local newspapers and the Yellow Pages.
Today, I can use my phone to summon a plumber, a week’s worth of groceries or a ride to a doctor’s office.
End-to-end operators like Netflix, Peloton and Lemonade take a lot of time and energy to reach scale, but “the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.”
Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial
On January 25, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted that he was making two blank-check deals.
Enterprise SaaS company Latch makes keyless entry systems; Sunlight Financial helps consumers finance residential solar power installations.
“There are nearly 300 SPACs in the market today looking for deals,” noted Alex Wilhelm, who unpacked both transactions.
“There’s no escaping SPACs for a bit, so if you are tired of watching blind pools rip private companies into the public markets, you are not going to have a very good next few months.”
Fintechs could see $ 100 billion of liquidity in 2021
On Monday, we published the Matrix Fintech Index, a three-part study that weighs liquidity, public markets and e-commerce trends to create a snapshot of an industry in perpetual flux.
For four years running, the S&P 500 and incumbent financial services companies have been outperformed by companies like Afterpay, Square and Bill.com.
In light of steady VC investment, increasing consumer adoption and a crowded IPO pipeline, “fintech represents one of the most exciting major innovation cycles of this decade.”
Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit
On January 15, 2001, then-college student Dries Buytaert released Drupal 1.0.0, an open-source content-management platform. At the time, about 7% of the world’s population was online.
After raising more than $ 180 million, Buytaert exited to Vista Equity Partners for $ 1 billion in 2019.
Enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed Buytaert to learn more about his 18-year journey.
“His story is compelling, but it also offers lessons for startup founders who also want to build something big,” says Ron.
One big theme in tech right now is the rise of services to help us keep working through lockdowns, office closures, and other Covid-19 restrictions. The “future of work” — cloud services, communications, productivity apps — has become “the way we work now.” And companies that have identified ways to help with this are seeing a boom.
Today comes news from a startup that has been a part of that trend: Calendly, a popular cloud-based service that people use to set up and confirm meeting times with others, has closed an investment of $ 350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.
The funding round includes both primary and secondary money (slightly more of the latter than the former, from what I understand) and values the Atlanta-based startup at over $ 3 billion.
Not bad for a company that before now had raised just $ 550,000, including the life savings of the founder and CEO, Tope Awotona, to initially get off the ground.
Calendly is a freemium software-as-a-service, built around what is essentially a very simple piece of functionality.
It’s a platform that provides a quick way to manage open spaces in your calendar for people to book appointments with you in those spaces, which then also books out the time in calendars like Google’s or Microsoft Outlook — with a growing number of tools to enhance that experience, including the ability to pay for a service in the event that your appointment is not a business meeting but, say, a yoga class. Pricing ranges from free (one calendar/one user/one event) to premium ($ 8/month) and pro ($ 12/month) for more calendars, events, integrations and features, with bigger packages for enterprises also available.
Its growth, meanwhile, has to date been based mostly around a very organic strategy: Calendly invites become links to Calendly itself, so people who use it and like it can (and do) start to use it, too.
The wide range of its use cases, and the virality of that growth strategy, have been winners. Calendly is already profitable, and it has been for years. And more recently, it has seen a boost, specifically in the last twelve months, as new Calendly users have emerged, as a result of how we are living.
We may not be doing more traditional “business meetings” per week, but the number of meetings we now need to set up, has gone up.
All of the serendipitous and impromptu encounters we used to have around an office, or a neighborhood coffee shop, or the park? Those are now scheduled. Teachers and students meeting for a remote lesson? Those also need invitations for online meetings.
And so do sessions with therapists, virtual dinner parties, and even (where they can still happen) in-person meetings, which are often now happening with more timed precision and more record-keeping, to keep social distancing and potential contact tracing in better order.
Currently, some 10 million of us are using Calendly for all of this on a monthly basis, with that number growing 1,180% last year. The army of business users from companies like Twilio, Zoom, and UCSF has been joined by teachers, contractors, entrepreneurs, and freelancers, the company says.
The company last year made about $ 70 million annually in subscription revenues from its SaaS-based business model and seems confident that its aggregated revenues will not long from now get to $ 1 billion.
So while the secondary funding is going towards giving liquidity to existing investors and early employees, Awotona said the plan will be to use the primary capital to invest in the company’s business.
That will include building out its platform with more tools and integrations — it started with and still has a substantial R&D operation in Kiev, Ukraine — expanding its operations with more talent (it currently has around 200 employees and plans to double headcount), further business development and more.
Two notable moves on that front are also being announced with the funding: Jeff Diana is coming on as chief people officer with a mission to double the company’s employee base. And Patrick Moran — formerly of Quip and New Relic — is joing as Calendly’s first chief revenue officer. Notably, both are based in San Francisco — not Atlanta.
That focus for building in San Francisco is already a big change for Calendly. The startup, which is going on eight years old, has been somewhat off the radar for years.
That is in part due to the fact that it raised very little money up to now (just $ 550,000 from a handful of investors that include OpenView, Atlanta Ventures, IncWell and Greenspring Associates).
It’s also based in Atlanta, an increasingly notable city for technology startups and other companies but more often than not short on being credited for its heft in that department (SalesLoft, Amex-acquired Kabbage, OneTrust, Bakkt, and many others are based there, with others like Mailchimp also not too far away).
And perhaps most of all, proactively courting publicity did not appear to be part of Calendly’s growth playbook.
In fact, Calendly might have closed this big round quietly and continued to get on with business, were it not for a short Tweet last autumn that signaled the company raising money and shaping up to be a quiet giant.
“The company’s capital efficiency and what @TopeAwotona has built deserve way more credit than they get,” it read. “Perhaps this will start to change that recognition.”
After that short note on Twitter — flagged on TechCrunch’s internal message board — I made a guess at Awotona’s email, sent a note introducing myself, and waited to see if I would get a reply.
I eventually did get a response, in the form of a short note agreeing to chat, with a Calendly link (naturally) to choose a time.
(Thanks, unnamed TC writer, for never writing about Calendly when Tope originally pitched you years ago: you may have whet his appetite to respond to me.)
In that first chat over Zoom, Awotona was nothing short of wary.
After years of little or no attention, he was getting cold-contacted by me and it seems others, all of us suddenly interested in him and his company.
“It’s been the bane of my life,” he said to me with a laugh about the calls he’s been getting.
Part of me thinks it’s because it can be hard and distracting to balance responding to people, but it’s also because he works hard, and has always worked hard, so doesn’t understand what the new fuss is about.
A lot of those calls have been from would-be investors.
“It’s been exorbitant, the amount of interest Calendly has been getting, from backers of all shapes and sizes,” Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView, said to me in an interview.
From what I understand, it’s had inbound interest from a number of strategic tech companies, as well as a long list of financial investors. That process eventually whittled down to just two backers, OpenView and Iconiq.
From Lagos to fixing cash registers
Yet even putting the rumors of the funding to one side, Calendly and Awotona himself have been a remarkable story up to now, one that champions immigrants as well as startup grit.
Tope comes from Lagos, Nigeria, part of a large, middle class household. His mother had been the chief pharmacist for the Nigerian Central Bank, his father worked for Unilever.
The family may have been comfortable, but growing up in Lagos, a city riven by economic disparity and crime, brought its share of tragedies. When he was 12, Awotona’s father was murdered in front of him during a carjacking. The family moved to the U.S. some time after that, and since then his mother has also passed away.
A bright student who actually finished high school at 15, Awotona cut his teeth in the world of business first by studying it — his major at the University of Georgia was management information systems — and then working in it, with jobs after college including periods at IBM and EMC.
But it seems Awotona was also an entrepreneur at heart — if one that initially was not prepared for the steps he needed to take to get something off the ground.
He told me a story about what he describes as his “first foray into business” at age 18, which involved devising and patenting a new feature for cash registers, so that they could use optical character recognition recognize which bills and change were being used for, and dispense the right amount a customer might need in return after paying.
At the time, he was working at a pharmacy while studying and saw how often the change in the cash registers didn’t add up correctly, and his was his idea for how to fix it.
He cold-contacted the leading cash register company at the time, NCR, with his idea. NCR was interested, offering to send him up to Ohio, where it was headquartered then, to pitch the idea to the company directly, and maybe sell the patent in the process. Awotona, however, froze.
“I was blown away,” he said, but also too surprised at how quickly things escalated. He turned down the offer, and ultimately let his patent application lapse. (Computer-vision-based scanning systems and automatic dispensers are, of course, a basic part nowadays of self-checkout systems, for those times when people pay in cash.)
There were several other entrepreneurial attempts, none particularly successful and at times quite frustrating because of the grunt work involved just to speak to people, before his businesses themselves could even be considered.
Eventually, it was the grunt work that then started to catch Awotona’s attention.
“What led me to create a scheduling product” — Awotona said, clear not to describe it as a calendaring service — “was my personal need. At the time wasn’t looking to start a business. I just was trying to schedule a meeting, but it took way too many emails to get it done, and I became frustrated.
“I decided that I was going to look for scheduling products that existed on the market that I could sign up for,” he continued, “but the problem I was facing at the time was I was trying to arrange a meeting with, you know, 10 or 20 people. I was just looking for an easy way for us to easily share our availability and, you know, easily find a time that works for everybody.”
He said he couldn’t really see anything that worked the way he wanted — the products either needed you to commit to a subscription right away (Calendly is freemium) or were geared at specific verticals such as beauty salons. All that eventually led to a recognition, he said, “that there was a big opportunity to solve that problem.”
The building of the startup was partly done with engineers in Kiev — a drama in itself that pivoted at times on the political situation at times in Ukraine (you can read a great unfolding of that story here).
Awotona says that he admired the new guard of cloud-based services like Dropbox and decided that he wanted Calendly to be built using “the Dropbox approach” — something that could be adopted and adapted by different kinds of users and usages.
Simplicity in the frontend, strategy at the backend
On the surface, there is a simplicity to the company’s product: it’s basically about finding a time for two parties to meet. Awotona notes that behind the scenes the scheduling help Calendly provides is the key to what it might develop next.
For example, there are now tools to help people prepare for meetings — specifically features like being able to, say, pay for something that’s been scheduled on Calendly in order to register. A future focus could well be more tools for following up on those meetings, and more ways to help people plan recurring individual or group events.
One area where it seems Calendly does not want to dabble are those meetings themselves — that is, hosting meetings and videoconferencing itself.
“What you don’t want is to start a world war three with Zoom,” Awotona joked. (In addition to becoming the very verb-ified definition of video conferencing, Zoom is also a customer of Calendly’s.)
“We really see ourselves as a leading orchestration platform. What that means is that we really want to remain extensible and flexible. We want our users to bring their own best in class products,” he said. “We think about this in an agnostic way.”
But in a technology world that usually defaults back to the power of platforms, that position is not without its challenges.
“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle. What happens before, during and after the meeting. Historically, the obvious was before the meeting, but now it’s looking at integrations, automations and other things, so that it all magically happens. But moving into the rest of the lifecycle is a lot of opportunity but also many players,” admitted Bartlett, with others including older startups like X.ai and Doodle (owned by Swiss-based Tamedia) or newer entrants like Undock but also biggies like Google and Microsoft.
“It will be an interesting task to see where there are opportunities to partner or build or buy to build out its competitive position.”
You’ll notice that throughout this story I didn’t refer to Awotona’s position as a black founder — still very much a rarity among startups, and especially those valued at over $ 1 billion.
That is partly because in my conversations with him, it emerged that he saw it as just another detail. Still, it is one that is brought up a lot, he said, and so he understands it is important for others.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about being black or not black,” he said. “It doesn’t change how I approach or built Calendly. I’m not incredibly conscious of my race or color, except for the last few years through he growth of Calendly. I find that more people approach me as a black tech founder, and that there is young black people who are inspired by the story.”
That is something he hopes to build on in the near future, including in his home country.
Pending pandemic chaos, he has plans to try to visit Nigeria later this year and to get more involved in the ecosystem in that country, I’m guessing as a mentor if not more.
“I just know the country that produced me,” he said. “There are a million Topes in Nigeria. The difference for me was my parents. But I’m not a diamond in the rough, and I want to get involved in some way to help with that full potential.”
Citrix, which is best known for its digital workspaces, sees this as a good match, especially at a time where employees have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. By combining the two companies, it produces a powerful combination, one that didn’t escape Citrix CEO and president David Henshall
“Together, Citrix and Wrike will deliver the solutions needed to power a cloud-delivered digital workspace experience that enables teams to securely access the resources and tools they need to collaborate and get work done in the most efficient and effective way possible across any channel, device or location,” Henshall said in a statement.
Andrew Filev, founder and CEO at Wrike, who has managed the company through these multiple changes and remains at the helm, believes his company has landed in a good spot with the Citrix purchase.
“First, as part of the Citrix family we will be able to scale our product and accelerate our roadmap to deliver capabilities that will help our customers get more from their Wrike investment. We have always listened to our customers and have built our product based on their feedback — now we will be able to do more of that, faster.,” Filev wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal, stating a typical argument from CEOs of acquired companies.
The startup reports $ 140 million ARR, growing at 30% annually, so that comes out to approximately 16x its present-day revenue, which is the price companies are generally paying for acquisitions these days. However, as Wrike expects to reach $ 180 million to $ 190 million in ARR this year, the company’s sale price could look like a bargain in a few years’ time if the projections come to pass.
The price was not revealed in the 2018 sale, but it surely feels like a big win for Vista. Consider that Wrike has previously raised just $ 26 million.
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