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Tag: Startup

Extra Crunch roundup: Fintech stays hot, Brex doubles, and startup IRR is up all over

May 1, 2021 No Comments

Tech companies in Silicon Valley, the geography, have had an incredible year. But one indicator points to longer-term changes. The internal rate of return (IRR) for companies in other startup hub cities has been even better. A big new analysis by AngelList showed aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals elsewhere versus 17.5% locally. A separate measure, of total value of paid-in investment, revealed 1.67x returns for other hubs versus 1.60x in the main Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech cities.


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The data is based on a sample of 2,500 companies that have used AngelList to syndicate deals from 2013 through 2020. Which is just one snapshot, but a relevant one given how hard it can be to produce accurate early-stage startup market analysis at this scale. I believe we’ll see more and more data confirming the trends in the coming years, especially as more of the startup world acclimates to remote-first and distributed offices. You can increasingly do a startup from anywhere and make it a success. Not that Silicon Valley is lacking optimism, as you’ll see in a number of the other stories in the roundup below!

Eric Eldon
Managing Editor, Extra Crunch

(Subbing in for Walter today as he’s enjoying a well-deserved break and definitely not still checking the site.)

Optimism reigns at consumer trading services as fintech VC spikes and Robinhood IPO looms

With the Coinbase direct listing behind us and the Robinhood IPO ahead, it’s a heady time for consumer-focused trading apps.

Mix in the impending SPAC-led debut of eToro, general bullishness in the cryptocurrency space, record highs for some equities markets, and recent rounds from Public.com, M1 Finance and U.K.-based Freetrade, and you could be excused for expecting the boom in consumer asset trading to keep going up and to the right.

But will it? There are data in both directions.

After going public, once-hot startups are riding a valuation roller coaster

A short meditation on value, or, more precisely, how assets are valued in today’s markets.

Long story short: This is why I only buy index funds. No one knows what anything (interesting) is worth.

Should you give an anchor investor a stake in your fund’s management company?

Image of a red anchor resting on pile of money.

Image Credits: Matthias Kulka (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Raising capital for a new fund is always hard.

But should you give preferential economics or other benefits to a seed anchor investor who makes a material commitment to the fund? Let’s break down the pros and cons.

2021 should be a banner year for biotech startups that make smart choices early

Image Credits: TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Last year was a record 12 months for venture-backed biotech and pharma companies, with deal activity rising to $ 28.5 billion from $ 17.8 billion in 2019.

As vaccines roll out, drug development pipelines return to normal, and next-generation therapies continue to hold investor interest, 2021 is on pace to be another blockbuster year.

But founder missteps early in the fundraising journey can result in severe consequences.

In this exciting moment, when younger founders will likely receive more attention, capital and control than ever, it’s crucial to avoid certain pitfalls.

Two investors weigh in: Is your SPAC just a PIPE dream?

A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow pane of focus. Composition made in photoshop. (A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow

Image Credits: Maxime Robeyns/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The fundamental thing to remember about the SPAC process is that the result is a publicly traded company open to the regulatory environment of the SEC and the scrutiny of public shareholders.

In today’s fast-paced IPO world, going public can seem like simply a marker of success, a box to check.

But are you ready to be a public company?

There is no cybersecurity skills gap, but CISOs must think creatively

Image of a question mark, gears, a lightbulb, and an exclamation point on chairs in a waiting room.

Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Those of us who read a lot of tech and business publications have heard for years about the cybersecurity skills gap. Studies often claim that millions of jobs are going unfilled because there aren’t enough qualified candidates available for hire.

Don’t buy it.

The basic laws of supply and demand mean there will always be people in the workforce willing to move into well-paid security jobs. The problem is not that these folks don’t exist. It’s that CIOs or CISOs typically look right past them if their resumes don’t have a very specific list of qualifications.

In many cases, hiring managers expect applicants to be fully trained on all the technologies their organization currently uses. That not only makes it harder to find qualified candidates, but it also reduces the diversity of experience within security teams — which, ultimately, may weaken the company’s security capabilities and its talent pool.

To be frank, we do not know how to value Honest Company

We do not know how to value Honest Company.

It’s outside our normal remit, but that the company is getting out the door at what appears to be a workable price gain to its final private round implies that investors earlier in its cap table are set to do just fine in its debut. Snowflake it is not, but at its current IPO price interval, it is hard to not call Honest a success of sorts — though we also anticipate that its investors had higher hopes.

Returning to our question, do we expect the company to reprice higher? No, but if it did, The Exchange crew would not fall over in shock.

How Brex more than doubled its valuation in a year

Henrique Dubugras BrexDSC02452

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Brex, a fintech company that provides corporate cards and spend-management software to businesses, announced Monday that it closed a $ 425 million Series D round of capital at a valuation of around $ 7.4 billion.

The new capital came less than a year after Brex raised $ 150 million at a $ 2.9 billion pre-money valuation.

So, how did the company manage to so rapidly boost its valuation and raise its largest round to date?

TechCrunch spoke with Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras after his company’s news broke. We dug into the how and why of its new investment and riffed on what going remote-first has done for the company, as well as its ability to attract culture-aligned and more diverse talent.

Founders who don’t properly vet VCs set up both parties for failure

Portrait of two men in cardboard boxes

Image Credits: Flashpop (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s a disconnect between reality and the added value investors are promising entrepreneurs. Three in five founders who were promised added value by their VCs felt duped by their negative experience.

While this feels like a letdown by investors, in reality, it shows fault on both sides. Due diligence isn’t a one-way street, and founders must do their homework to make sure they’re not jumping into deals with VCs who are only paying lip service to their value-add.

Looking into an investor’s past, reputation and connections isn’t about finding the perfect VC, it’s about knowing what shaking certain hands will entail — and either being ready for it or walking away.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities

Image Credits: Jeff Newton / Hippo

What is the biggest opportunity for proptech founders? How should they think about competition, strategic investment versus top-tier VC firms and how to build their board? What about navigating regulation?

We sat down with Brendan Wallace, co-founder and general manager of Fifth Wall, and Hippo CEO Assaf Wand for an episode of Extra Crunch Live to discuss all of the above.

SaaS subscriptions may be short-serving your customers

Suggesting scarcity, a single green pea rests in the middle of a dinner plate surrounded by tableware.

Image Credits: emyerson (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Software as a service (SaaS) has perhaps become a bit too interchangeable with subscription models.

Every software company now looks to sell by subscription ASAP, but the model itself might not fit all industries or, more importantly, align with customer needs, especially early on.

What can the OKR software sector tell us about startup growth more generally?

In the never-ending stream of venture capital funding rounds, from time to time, a group of startups working on the same problem will raise money nearly in unison. So it was with OKR-focused startups toward the start of 2020.

How were so many OKR-focused tech upstarts able to raise capital at the same time? And was there really space in the market for so many different startups building software to help other companies manage their goal-setting? OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” a corporate planning method, are no longer a niche concept. But surely, over time, there would be M&A in the group, right?

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

Passenger Jet Plane Flying Above San Francisco for travel concept

Image Credits: petdcat (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets from Austin to Seattle to Pittsburgh has increased 144% over the last five years.

And the number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast — and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights

Image of a hand holding green piggybank in a green field.

Image Credits: Guido Mieth (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Almost two centuries ago, gold prospectors in California set off one of the greatest rushes for wealth in history. Proponents of socially conscious investing claim fund managers will start a similar stampede when they discover that environmental, social and governance (ESG) insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data that promise big payoffs — if only they knew how to mine it.

ESG data is everywhere. Learning how to understand it promises big payoffs.

 

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My company is looking to hire a very talented data infrastructure engineer who is undocumented. She has never applied for DACA before.

What is the latest on DACA? What can we do to support her?

—Multicultural in Milpitas

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity

The IPO parade continued this week as India-based food-delivery unicorn Zomato filed to go public. 

The Zomato IPO is incredibly important. As our own Manish Singh reported when the company’s numbers became public, a “successful listing [could be] poised to encourage nearly a dozen other unicorn Indian startups to accelerate their efforts to tap the public markets.”

So, Zomato’s debut is not only notable because its impending listing gives us a look into its economics, but because it could lead to a liquidity rush in the country if its flotation goes well.

Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure

Well bought construction workers building house

Image Credits: Donald Iain Smith (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With the United States moving all-in on massive infrastructure investment, much of the discussion has focused on jobs and building new green industries for the 21st century.

While the Biden administration’s plan will certainly expand the workforce, it also provides a massive opportunity for the adoption of automation technologies within the construction industry.

Despite the common narrative of automating away human jobs, the two are not nearly as much in conflict, especially with new investments creating space for new roles and work.

In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

How to fundraise over Zoom more effectively

Image showing person at computer and person presenting seeking funding.,

Image Credits: fourSage (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Even though in-person drinks and coffee walks are on the horizon, virtual fundraising isn’t going away.

Now, it’s imperative to ensure your virtual pitch is as effective as your IRL one.

Not only is it more efficient — no expensive trips to San Francisco or trouble fitting investor meetings into one day — virtual fundraising helps democratize access to venture capital.

Hacking my way into analytics: A creative’s journey to design with data

Abstract Particle connection network background

Image Credits: Xuanyu Han (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s a growing need for basic data literacy in the tech industry, and it’s only getting more taxing by the year.

Words like “data-driven,” “data-informed” and “data-powered” increasingly litter every tech organization’s product briefs. But where does this data come from?

Who has access to it? How might I start digging into it myself? How might I leverage this data in my day-to-day design once I get my hands on it?

Fintech startups set VC records as the 2021 fundraising market continues to impress

The first three months of the year were the most valuable period for fintech investing, ever.

Where did the fintech venture capital market push the most money in Q1, and why? Let’s dig in.

Healthcare is the next wave of data liberation

Image of a balloon carrying away a brain.

Image Credits: PM Images (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Why can we see all our bank, credit card and brokerage data on our phones instantaneously in one app, yet walk into a doctor’s office blind to our healthcare records, diagnoses and prescriptions?

Our health status should be as accessible as our checking account balance.

The liberation of healthcare data is beginning to happen, and it will have a profound impact on society — it will save and extend lives.

What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

Image of intertwining arrows on a chalkboard to represent decision-making.

Image Credits: cnythzl (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt.”

As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game. But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily.

So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

The era of the European insurtech IPO will soon be upon us

Detail of Euro note showing European continent

Image Credits: Image Source (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $ 150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.

It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience, and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.

This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits.

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

Medicine doctor hand working with modern computer interface as medical network concept

Image Credits: Busakorn Pongparnit (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The recent movement toward data transparency is bringing about a new era of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data.

What’s the main difference, and how can startups solve these problems?

 

 


Startups – TechCrunch


Ivorian startup Afrikrea partners with DHL and Visa to launch SaaS e-commerce platform ANKA

April 28, 2021 No Comments

In 2016, Ivorian e-commerce startup Afrikrea started as a marketplace for African-based and inspired clothing, accessories, arts, and crafts. Over the past five years, Afrikrea has served more than 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries and buyers from 170 countries.

Per the company’s data, it records more than 500,000 visits monthly, with the majority of its customers from Europe and North America recording over $ 15 million in transactions.

But while Afrikrea presents African merchants to showcase and sell their products to the world, it is just one of the many channels available, including personal websites and social media.

Co-founder and CEO Moulaye Taboure says that he noticed that merchants were splitting time and concentration across different channels, which affected their engagement with Afrikrea.

“We noticed that it was getting harder for our sellers to make sales because they were losing time, money and energy switching between channels,” Taboure told TechCrunch. “Every time they want to sell a product, they put it on social media, Afrikrea, and other websites. And when one buyer shows interest, there is no single place to track and see all the orders. That’s hard for these businesses to offer quality services and grow effectively.”

Then last year, Afrikrea began testing an all-in-one SaaS e-commerce platform for these merchants. Today, it is announcing its launch. The platform called ANKA will allow users to sell from Africa, ship products to anywhere in the world and get paid through local and international African payment methods.

Afrikrea

Image Credits:

E-commerce, payments and global shipping. That’s ANKA’s play for thousands of micro-retailers and businesses on the continent and around the world.

The platform lets users sell via an omnichannel dashboard with a single inventory, orders and messages management. Customers can carry out transactions via a customized online storefront like Shopify, social media platforms, links such as on Gumroad and the Afrikrea marketplace.

Merchants can carry out payments and payouts via a wallet and an Afrikrea Visa card. The platform, which costs $ 12, allows customers to perform mobile money and mobile banking transactions with MPesa, Orange, MTN and PayPal

Shipping completes the entire sales life cycle, from the point of sale to receipt of goods. In 2019, Afrikrea partnered with global logistics partner DHL to offer shipping services to its customers.

Fashion is ANKA’s best-selling category because of its affiliation with Afrikrea. The African fashion and apparel market is worth $ 31billion, per Euromonitor, and Afrikrea estimates the yearly spend of its major markets to be worth $ 12.5 billion. A breakdown from the company puts “the African diaspora in Europe at $ 1 billion, those in America and the Caribbean at $ 9 billion and non-Africans with links to the continent at $ 2.5 billion.”

But in terms of general e-commerce activities on the continent, McKinsey & Company pegs consumer spending to reach $ 2.1 trillion by 2025. African e-commerce is also expected to account for up to 10% of retail sales.

Platforms like Jumia, Mall4Africa and Takealot have been at the forefront of this growth over this past decade. MallforAfrica struck a partnership with DHL in 2015, then launched DHL Africa eShop with the logistics giant four years later. More than 200 sellers from the U.S. and U.K. serve African consumers in more than 30 countries on the platform.

Unlike MallforAfrica and other e-commerce platforms, ANKA differentiates itself as a platform for export rather than import, specifically for African products. According to Moulaye, ANKA is currently the largest e-commerce exporter on the continent, and since its partnership with DHL, it has shipped more than 10 tons of cargo monthly from Africa

“We are the biggest client of DHL exporting from Africa. We ship 10 tons every month and have sellers in 47 African countries, with Kenya and Nigeria as our largest markets. We have something African that is going to a global scale. That’s one of the angles we had with Afrikrea, and we want to keep that with ANKA. What sets us apart is that we’re not just trying to solve a purely African problem; we want to solve a global problem for Africans.”

Since launching five years ago, Afrikrea, which Taboure launched with Luc B. Perussault Diallo and Kadry Diallo, has raised a total of $ 2.1 million per Crunchbase. In this period, the company has seen its revenue grow 5x and claims to have ARR more than it has raised in its lifetime. To continue its growth efforts, Afrikrea is in the process of concluding a Series A round later this year.


Startups – TechCrunch


Beat the deadline: Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield at TC Disrupt 2021

April 14, 2021 No Comments

Startup Battlefield — the matriarch of all pitch competitions — is the stuff of tech legend. Heck, it even played a role in the HBO show, “Silicon Valley,” and its influence touches early-stage startups around the globe. Under no circumstance will you find a bigger, better platform for launching your startup to the world.

Battlefield has a long history of producing notable names. Need an example? A little startup by the name of Dropbox competed in the Battlefield at TC50 (the precursor to Disrupt) way back in 2008.

TechCrunch is on the hunt for innovative, game-changing startups to take the Startup Battlefield challenge and wrangle with the best-of-the-best at TC Disrupt 2021 in September. Are you game?

Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield before the deadline closes on May 13 11:59 pm (PT).

The stakes: A shot at $ 100,000 in equity-free prize money. Major exposure for all competing startups — think investors eager to find and fund the next big thing, journalists in search of exciting, game-changing startups to cover and potential customers and partners who can help take your business to new levels of success.

The investment: Your time. Yup, that’s it. Appyling to and participating in Startup Battlefield is 100 percent free. No fees, no equity cut. You simply invest your time — all participating founders receive several weeks of training with the Startup Battlefield team. Your demo and presentation will be, well, pitch perfect when you deliver it to panels of top VC judges. And you’ll be thoroughly prepped to handle the Q&A that follows.

The perks: In addition to the massive interest from just about all Disrupt attendees, competing startups get exhibition space in the Startup Alley expo area, free passes to future TechCrunch events, a free membership to Extra Crunch and invitations to private events like the Startup Battlefield reception.

You’ll meet members of the Startup Battlefield alumni community — we’re talking about 922 companies (like Vurb, Mint, Yammer and, yes, Dropbox) that have collectively raised $ 9.5 billion and produced 117 exits. Once Disrupt ends, you’re part of this phenomenal community — just imagine the networking possibilities.

The details: Read more about how Startup Battlefield works.

TC Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23. If you’ve got an innovative, game-changing startup, apply to compete in Startup Battlefield. Make sure you submit your completed application before the deadline expires on May 13 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


Startups – TechCrunch


Cryptocurrency wallet and blockchain tech startup imToken raises $30 million Series B

April 4, 2021 No Comments

ImToken, the blockchain tech startup and crypto wallet developer, announced today it has raised $ 30 million in Series B funding led by Qiming Venture Partners. Participants included returning investor IDG Capital, and new backers Breyer Capital, HashKey, Signum Capital, Longling Capital, SNZ and Liang Xinjun, the co-founder of Fosun International.

Founded in 2016, the startup’s last funding announcement was for its $ 10 million Series A, led by IDG, in May 2018. ImToken says its wallet for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies now has 12 million users, and over $ 50 billion in assets are currently stored on its platform, with total transaction value exceeding $ 500 billion.

The company was launched in Hangzhou, China, before moving to it current headquarters to Singapore, and about 70% of its users are in mainland China, followed by markets including South Korea, the United States and Southeast Asia.

ImToken will use its latest funding to build features for “imToken 3.0.” This will include keyless accounts, account recovery and a suite of decentralized finance services. It also plans to expand its research arm for blockchain technology, called imToken Labs and open offices in more countries. It currently has a team of 78 people, based in mainland China, the United States and Singapore, and expects to increase its headcount to 100 this year.

In a press statement, Qiming Venture Partners founding managing partner Duane Kuang said, “In the next ten to twenty years, blockchain will revolutionize the financial industry on a global scale. We believe that imToken is riding this trend, and has strongly positioned itself in the market.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Snap acquires Fit Analytics, a fitting technology startup, to double down on fashion and e-commerce

March 18, 2021 No Comments

“Snap, Inc. is a camera company,” Snap notes on its homepage, and while a lot of its effort up to now have been about using that camera ethos to help people share images of their lives with their social circles on its flagship app Snapchat, today the company made an acquisition to further that camera reach in another direction: selling fashion and more generally, e-commerce and shopping.

Snap today confirmed that it has acquired Fit Analytics, a startup based in Berlin that has built technology to help shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear from online retailers, along with a wider set of personalization tools and other analytics to help retailers figure out how to sell more overall.

Fit Analytics already works with a number of big retailers, including North Face, Asos, Calvin Klein, Patagonia, Puma, and many more — in all, some 18,000 retailers already.

In other words, Snap is adding not just a technology team — there are 100 staff at the company, based in Berlin, who will be reporting to Snap VP of Engineering Nima Khajehnouri — but a substantial e-commerce technology business into its portfolio.

Fit Analytics has confirmed that it will be continuing to operate its existing business, while also working on helping Snap build out its shopping platform.

If you are a Fit Analytics partner, this is only the beginning,” Fit Analytics’ CEO and co-founder Sebastian Schulze wrote in a blog post announcing the deal. “By leveraging Snap’s scale and capabilities, we will not only continue to service our existing clients, but also deepen our relationships and offerings with our brand partners and retailers. Our main focus going forward will be to scale the Fit Analytics business and work with Snap to grow their shopping platform, leveraging our technology and expertise. Our teams will be jointly executing on next-gen shopping, fashion and style offerings.”

Fit Analytics’ technology lets people enter their own measurements into a tool that uses machine learning to match those dimensions up to the clothes or shoes in question to find the best fit.

Notably, although it is not the focus for the company right now, Fit Analytics also has built technology to match clothing using images that customers upload themselves — an interesting area considering Snap’s focus on the visual experience, on visuals created by its users — and of course the features it has built around lenses and other augmented reality experiences to let people play with different versions of themselves and how they look.

The terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Fit Analytics, which used to be called UpCload (and actually launched back in 2011 at a TC Disrupt event in Beijing focused mainly on “webcam” technology — this was the days before smartphone-created selfies were de rigueur) had disclosed less than $ 1 million in funding according to PitchBook data, although that list of customers implies that it was generating strong revenues.

Social shopping spree

Snap’s acquisition of Fit Analytics pulls on a few different strategic threads for the social media company.

For starters, it will give Snap another way to diversify its revenues. The company is now making nearly $ 1 billion a quarter in revenues (in its Q4 earnings, it posted sales of $ 911 million). The majority of that is coming from advertising on Snapchat, so Snap is naturally looking for other ways of making money.

Whether Fit Analytics is integrated into Snapchat or not, and regardless of what will happen with how Apple and Google let apps monetize on their mobile platforms, Fit Analytics is already likely pulling in a substantial amount of revenue by way of its e-commerce services for retailers.

Covid-19 has led a lot of retailers to rethink how well their e-commerce experiences work, and that could have meant more activity for companies like Fit Analytics. All that will now be funneled on to Snap’s balance sheet.

Its advertising business, meanwhile, reveals that Snap already has a substantial relationship with fashion and beauty brands.

In those Q4 earnings alone, it noted augmented reality campaigns with NYX Professional Makeup and Ralph Lauren, as well as a partnership with Perfect Corp for 200 beauty brands to upload catalogs to the Snap Camera for augmented reality try-on. Fit Analytics will help it deepen those engagements, by giving Snap another range of features that it can build out for those customers. Come for the AR filter to see how you look in a Ralph Lauren sweater, and then…shop the look.

In addition to diversifying its revenues, it could be a sign of how Snap is diversifying the kinds of bells and whistles it’s providing for its audience. Again, Snap is not commenting on how and when it plans to integrate Fit Analytics’ tools, but it is notable that Snapchat’s core audience of teen and younger users also happens to be a major target for fashion retailers, too.

Clothing, fashion accessories and shoes together made up some 33% of US teenagers’ spend in Fall 2020, according to research from Piper Sandler, against other categories like video games, music, and food. (Books got a paltry 1% – I guess they didn’t survey many bookish types…)

Slicing up the pie somewhat differently, Piper Sandler said that the majority of spend, 40%, was dedicated to “How I Look (aka the Selfie Budget)” — putting what Fit Analytics enables more squarely in the same categories that Snap is also looking to address.

Sidenote: Piper Sander’s research shows that Amazon is far and away the biggest destination for fashion shopping right now for teens, which shows how fragmented the D2C market is.

That also sets up an interesting opportunity for Snap, by way of Snapchat, to provide another shopping channel for those D2C brands, while also riding on the coattails, so to speak, of Instagram and its growing role in the world of social media-based commerce.

At its core, Fit Analytics’ tools are part of what you might think of as the “missing link” in fashion e-commerce.

The benefits of online commerce are pretty extensive: people can shop whenever they want; they can get a much bigger selection of items, since the retail “space” is limited only by the time shoppers want to commit to shopping; they can get more personalised experiences; and they are increasingly getting a diversified range of delivery options and times.

The biggest drawback has, of course, been in the lack of “hands-on” interaction.

Put more simply, you have no way of trying on clothes and shoes, leading to the other big pain point: returns. Fit Analytics is part of the army of startups that have been building technology to fill that gap: others have included companies that provide visualizations of how clothes can look on a person.

Notably, these are areas where Amazon has also been making significant investments — in addition to making acquisitions like the 3D modeling startup Body Labs, it has launched a plethora of services to make it easier for people to buy from it, such as its try-on-and-return feature Prime Wardrobe. The e-commerce giant has a lot of weapons in its arsenal, but technology undoubtedly has been helping it win the fashion commerce race. 

Snap has made about 20 acquisitions to date, covering areas like advertising technology, location-based services, services to further the company’s AI and augmented reality products, and forays into music. Fit Analytics appears to be the first focused on shopping and e-commerce, and specifically fashion, but if its interest in shopping continues to grow, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the last.


Social – TechCrunch


Extra Crunch roundup: Coupang and Roblox debut, driving GPT-3 adoption, startup how-tos, more

March 13, 2021 No Comments

Extra Crunch publishes a variety of article types, but how-tos are my favorite category.

For many entrepreneurs, the startup they are trying to get off the ground might be only the second entry on their resume. As a result, they don’t have much experience to draw from when it comes to basics like hiring, fundraising and growth marketing.

Last week, Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed experts who had some strategic advice for finding the right time to bring a product manager on board. This afternoon, we published a guest post by growth marketer Jessica Li with tips for “how nontechnical talent can build relationships with deep tech companies.”

We’ve also received great feedback on a recent guest post about bootstrapping options for SaaS founders written by a founder who’s actually done it.


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If you have some startup-related “how” and “why” questions, please browse our Extra Crunch How To stories. They’re aimed squarely at early-stage founders and workers trying to solve long-term problems.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Welcome to Bloxburg, public investors

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: Roblox Corporation Founder and CEO David Baszucki speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Image Credits: Steve Jennings / Getty Images

As Roblox began to trade Wednesday, the company’s shares shot above its reference price of $ 45 per share. Roblox, a gaming company aimed at children, has had a tumultuous if exciting path to the public markets.

Seeing Roblox trade so very far above its direct listing reference price and final private valuation appears to undercut the argument that this sort of debut can sort out pricing issues inherent in more traditional IPOs.

4 ways startups will drive GPT-3 adoption in 2021

Robot paper holding pen, space for text

Image Credits: Zastrozhnov (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Trained on trillions of words, GPT-3 is a 175-billion parameter transformer model — the third of such models released by OpenAI.

GPT-3 is remarkable in its ability to generate human-like text and responses, able to return coherent and topical emails, tweets, trivia and much more. In 2021, this technology will power the launch of a thousand new startups and applications.

There have never been more $ 100M+ fintech rounds than right now

We are in a period of all-time record investment for so-called mega-rounds, or investments of $ 100 million or more inside the fintech realm.

To date, Q1 2021 is ahead and is thus guaranteed to set a new record, having already bested the preceding all-time high. What’s going on?

Global-e files to go public as e-commerce startups enjoy a renaissance

Global-e, an e-commerce platform that helps online sellers reach global consumers, filed to go public on Tuesday. Global-e’s business exploded amid the pandemic in 2020, and the company expects that the COVID-fueled shift to e-commerce will only lead to future growth.

 

Passive collaboration is essential to remote work’s long-term success

Afro-caribbean woman working from home during the Covid lockdown

Image Credits: Alistair Berg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Have you ever popped into a meeting because you overheard a snippet of a conversation and wanted to share your perspective?

That’s passive collaboration — low-friction ways to invite new ideas. But it’s only when we’re able to fully realize passive collaboration virtually that we’ll have unlocked the full potential of remote and hybrid work situations.

 

Dear Sophie: What are the pros and cons of the H-1B, O-1A and EB-1A?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m an entrepreneur who wants to expand my startup to the U.S. What are the benefits and drawbacks of various types of visas and green cards?

The ones I’ve heard the most about are the H-1B, O-1 and EB-1A.

— Intelligent in India

 

Proactive CEOs should prioritize European expansion

Map of Europe in blue with light shining through

Image Credits: Sean Gladwell (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Many investors will encourage CEOs to remain U.S.-centric this year and perhaps expand their product offering or move into new market segments. But 95% of the world’s population lives outside the U.S., making an expansion into Europe your best growth lever.

 

Coupang follows Roblox to a strong first day of trading

A Coupang Corp. delivery truck drives past a company's fulfillment center in Bucheon, South Korea, on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. and that could raise billions of dollars to battle rivals and kick off a record year for IPOs in the Asian country. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: Bloomberg (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

After Roblox debuted on Wednesday, Coupang followed, with shares shooting above the South Korean e-commerce giant’s IPO price range. Quick math shows Coupang is worth around $ 92 billion at the moment, a huge number that nearly zero companies will ever reach.

 

How and when to hire your first product manager

Because product managers and founders often have overlapping skill sets, it can be tricky to find the right candidate.

While it’s different for every company, hiring a PM ensures companies aren’t “chasing the shiny object” but rather building the things that create enduring value for customers.

 

Deep Science: AI adventures in arts and letters

Robotic arm carrying a mechanical part

Image Credits: Alashi / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

AI isn’t confined to the tech sphere; machine learning is applicable across disciplines, from music and the “computational unfolding” of ancient letters to figuring out where EV charging stations need to be built.

 

A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The SEC filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year.

It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

 

Olo’s IPO could value the company north of $ 3B as Toast waits in the wings

Olo has a history of growth and profitability, making its impending pricing all the more interesting.

But are investors willing to pay more for profits? And, if so, how much?

 

From electric charging to supply chain management, InMotion Ventures preps Jaguar for a sustainable future

Image Credits: Andrew Ferraro — Handout/Jaguar Racing / Getty Images

InMotion’s investment in Circulor, a company that monitors supply chains from raw material inputs to finished outputs with an eye toward sustainable sourcing, shows the firm’s dedication to backing companies across the mobility space broadly.

 

White-label voice assistants will win the battle for podcast discovery

3D headphones with sound waves on dark background. Concept of electronic music listening and digital audio. Abstract visualization of digital sound waves and modern art. Vector illustration. (3D headphones with sound waves on dark background. Concept

Image Credits: maxkabakov (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Americans are bored, housebound and screened out, driving roughly 128 million Americans to use a voice assistant at least once a month.

This has created a golden opportunity for audio as consumers turn to podcasts, voice assistants and smart speakers.

 

Why I’m hitting pause on ARR-focused coverage

One of the first recurring features Alex Wilhelm established at Extra Crunch was the “$ 100M ARR Club,” ongoing coverage of startups that have reached scale.

“Forget a $ 1 billion valuation — $ 100 million in annual recurring revenue is the cool kids’ club,” he wrote in December 2019. Since then, he expanded it to cover companies that attained $ 50M ARR.

The concept is a useful lens for studying the market. I can say this with confidence because it’s been widely copied by other tech news outlets. But this morning, Alex surprised me — he’s shelving the ARR Club, at least for now.

“In the end it became a pre-IPO list that was fun but not entirely educational, by my reckoning,” he told me. “The $ 50M ARR club evolution was supposed to help shake loose more interesting operational details, but just didn’t.”

Before putting the format on hiatus, Alex’s last ARR Club roundup looks at in-office display and kiosk startup AppSpace, data backup unicorn Druva, and Synack, which makes security software.


TC Early Stage: The premier how-to event for startup entrepreneurs and investors

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At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

Use discount code ECNEWSLETTER to take 20% off the cost of your TC Early Stage ticket!


Startups – TechCrunch


Entertainment payroll startup Wrapbook raises $27M round led by A16Z

March 9, 2021 No Comments

Wrapbook, a startup that simplifies the payroll process for TV, film and commercial productions, has raised $ 27 million in Series A funding from noteworthy names in both the tech and entertainment worlds.

The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Equal Ventures and Uncork Capital, as well as from WndrCo (the investment and holding company led by DreamWorks and Quibi founder/co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg) and from CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz.

“It’s time we bring production financial services into the 21st century,” Katzenberg said in a statement. “We need a technology solution that will address the increasing complexities of production onboarding, pay and insuring cast and crew, only exacerbated by COVID-19, and I believe that Wrapbook delivers.”

Wrapbook co-founder and CEO Ali Javid explained that entertainment payroll has remained a largely old-fashioned, paper-based process, which can be particularly difficult to track as cast and crew move from project to project, up to 30 times in single year. Wrapbook digitizes and simplifies the process — electronically collecting all the forms and signatures needed at the beginning of production, handling payroll itself, creating a dashboard to track payments and also making it easy to obtain the necessary insurance.

Wrapbook founders

Wrapbook founders Cameron Woodward, Ali Javid, Hesham El-Nahhas and Naysawn Naji

Although the startup was founded in 2018, Javid told me that demand has increased dramatically as production resumed during the pandemic, with COVID-19 “totally” changing the industry’s culture and prompting production companies to say, “Hey, if there’s an easier, faster way to do this from my house, then yeah let’s look at it.”

Javid also described the Wrapbook platform as a “a vertical fintech solution that’s growing really fast in an industry that we understand really well and not many others have thought about.” In fact, he said the company’s revenue grew 7x in 2020.

And while Wrapbook’s direct customers are the production companies, co-founder and CMO Cameron Woodward (who previously worked in filmmaking insurance and commercial production) said that the team has also focused on creating a good experience for the cast and crew who get paid through the platform — a growing number of them (12% thus far) have used their Wrapbook profiles to get paid on multiple productions.

Wrapbook growth chart

Image Credits: Wrapbook

The startup previously raised $ 3.6 million in seed funding. Looking ahead, Javid and Woodward said that Wrapbook’s solution could eventually be adopted in other project-based industries. But for now, they see plenty of opportunity to continue growing within entertainment alone — they estimated that the industry currently sees $ 200 billion in annual payments.

“We’re going to double down on what’s working and build things out based on what customers have asked for within entertainment,” Javid said. “To that end, we’re working towards hiring 100 people in the next 12 months.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


What Every Startup Needs to Know Before They Select a PPC Marketing Agency

March 4, 2021 No Comments

As someone who has been fortunate enough to be a part both the Startup and Digital Agency World, it pains me to witness the many recurring mistakes that are happening by bringing these two worlds together. The Agency wants the business and the Startup wants the best and smartest people to “grow their baby”. It all sounds like a “no-brainer’ right? Well, this perfect situation can sometimes be clouded by one of the most bastardized words in the client-agency relationship – Expectations. In this post, I will highlight some of the misconceptions that could, at the very least, help the next Startup as they prepare to show their product/service to the world.

How to Play the Digital Agency Game:

Don’t get me wrong. There are many highly reputable Marketing Agencies in the world that do not fit this description. On the other hand, there are some other Agencies that work on a different playing field that is not financially supportive of Startups. Most agencies take a 15% commission of Ad Spend regardless of performance or the companies financial situation. These agencies often provide a “Production Line” level level of service that question the actual time spend which leads to the overall client performance. Beware of agencies that promise GOLD and deliver pennies.

What Startups really need from an Agency:

  • 100% transparency of where and how their money is being spent.
  • Daily Direct communication with the Strategist/Marketer.
  • Less than 24 hour turn-around times for typical updates.
  • Level of ongoing Education on how the digital advertising world works.

Big Agency Regurgitation

I have witnessed many horror stories over the years from prospects/clients from either a performance or client relationship with a previous agency. The one thing that all of them had in common was the lack of achievable expectations. Situations such as poor communication, lackluster performance and just an overall bad experience have not only left a bitter taste in their mouth but also question the entire agency experience. Moreover, this feeling of being “burned” has motivated their thinking to bring the marketing “in-house” as the only alternative to reaching success. This is not a good thing….

Conference Intoxication

As a big fan of conferences, they often open your eyes to a whole new world of innovation, prosperity and vision for business owners and that’s a great thing. However, it can sometimes backfire to the point of confusion and anxiety of what to focus on first. It is very easy for Entrepreneurs to get “over-excited” about the latest bells and whistles in software, automation and analytics. They are told that once they have these tools in their toolbox, they can turn their business into a fortune 100 company instantly.

Unfortunately, a reality check is needed to bring everyone down from this “high” and re-focus on the core issue at hand which is identifying, engaging and converting with their core audiences within a sensible budget. Remember, investing in Shiny Objects make you vulnerable, not successful.

The Misunderstanding of Monetization

In some instances, both advertisers and agencies, often forget to track every interaction point and that little oversight can be an unfortunate mistake. This assumed “low-hanging” fruit for tracking things other than traditional eCommerce/Lead Gen Forms such as (below) can completely skew overall performance and future optimization which could be devastating to startups as they hunger for continual growth.

  • Contact Forms
  • Email Newsletter Signups
  • Live Chats
  • Phone Calls
  • Pageviews of a particular page can lead to

Mistrust of the Case Study

Case Studies are a great source for understanding the successes of a particular experience that allow the reader to adapt to new ideas and strategies. However, you need to be careful not put to put too much emphasis on the successes of these studies because of the substantiated factors which often lead inaccuracy. Here are some examples:

  • Geography (Some of these studies reference a specific GEO area and not the wider population)
  • Singular view and opinion. Often, these studies are done by a small group of people which may have biased opinions based on data collected.
  • Case Studies are often used as a “Toot your own horn” strategy to generate more business. (Google is pretty good at that)

Don’t Bet the Farm

I can understand the anxieties of Startups where they want to launch their business with a big bang. However, spending too much too fast (especially in the PPC marketing world) can completely ruin their chances for steady sustainable growth. It’s imperative to start testing “right out of the gate” as well as identifying the quick wins and losses. Moreover, you will need to develop strategies to generate relevent traffic and awareness through alternative methods such as Social Media, SEO and quite frankly “word of mouth”. To prove this theory, just a take a look at these screenshots from SpyFu’s Monthly Trend function.

ppc startups

Outside Opinion Overload

Yes, it’s important to get as much feedback as possible when launching a new company. However, getting advice from people who think they know certain aspects of online marketing because they read an article or attended a conference, can be a slippery slope. Taking advice and/or criticism from someone “on the outside” that completely contradicts the vision of both your business partners and hired experts can be harmful to the business. This 3rd party opinion is often made without any understanding of what it takes to implement as well as its expected outcome. Whether it’s strategies about Landing Pages, Brand vs. Non-Brand, or even simple things such as Promotions and Offers can have a negative effect on revenue if not discussed by everyone on the team.

Solution: Soak up all of the feedback you can get, discuss with your team and agree to label these new ideas as “TEST” Campaigns and analyze the heck out of them.

Forecast Projection Failures

How many times have you seen someone simply create excel formulas which magically forecast the future of online marketing revenue based on a single monetary amount. (For example, if we increase our budget from $ 10,000 to $ 100,000 we will generate an additional $ 1 million dollars.) Yeah, I wish that were all true. However, that is not the case. The math may sound great to a Venture Capitalist/Investor, but it’s just not realistic.

  • Take in account the following scenarios:
  • Market Saturation Levels
  • Seasonality Highs/Lows
  • Potential Technical issues
  • Search Engine Algorithm changes
  • Increased Competitor landscape

“Off the Mark” Target Audiences

Hate to say this, but I have witnessed startup companies that thought they new their audiences and it wasn’t until they over-spent their PPC dollars and countless Landing Page A/B test to come to that realization. Selling a product or service requires more than just a few hours of typical market research. When it comes to online marketing, either hire a PPC Consultant or purchase PPC Competitive Research Software such as SpyFu.com to see some of these invaluable competitor information:

  • Monthly Budget Trends
  • PPC and SEO Keywords
  • Top Text Ads
  • Their own PPC and SEO Competitors
  • Review monthly and seasonality trends
  • Compare up to (3) three competitors and see which terms they are all bidding on.

Here’s an example:

PPC Competitive Analysis

In Conclusion

Whether you are building a Startup company or growing an existing one, the agency experience should be a positive one. However, dealing with the “dog eat dog” agency world when it comes to trust, expectations and continual growth is unfortunate and should never happen. I hope this blog post, at the very least, has provided some insight into preventing these situations as well as learning from them. Finding the right agency partner is just as important as finding the right target audience.


Digital Marketing Agency | Google Ads Consultant


SentinelOne to acquire high-speed logging startup Scalyr for $155M

February 9, 2021 No Comments

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.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


How Atlanta’s Calendly turned a scheduling nightmare into a $3B startup

January 26, 2021 No Comments

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.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch