How investors are valuing the pandemic

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Kicking off with a tiny bit of housekeeping: Equity is now doing more stuff. And TechCrunch has its Justice and Early-Stage events coming up. I am interviewing the CRO of Zoom for the latter. And The Exchange itself has some long-overdue stuff coming next week, including $50M and $100M ARR updates (Druva, etc.), a peek at consumption based pricing vs. traditional SaaS models (featuring Fastly, Appian, BigCommerce CEOs, etc.), and more. Woo! 

This week both DoorDash and Airbnb reported earnings for the first time as public companies, marking their real graduation into the ranks of the exited unicorns. We’re keeping our usual eye on the earnings cycle, quietly, but today we have some learnings for the startup world.

Some basics will help us get started. DoorDash beat growth expectations in Q4, reporting revenue of $970 million versus an expected $938 million. The gap between the two likely comes partially from how new the DoorDash stock is, and the pandemic making it difficult to forecast. Despite the outsized growth, DoorDash shares initially fell sharply after the report, though they largely recovered on Friday.

Why the initial dip? I reckon the company’s net loss was larger than investors hoped — though a large GAAP deficit is standard for first quarters post-debut. That concern might have been tempered by the company’s earnings call, which included a note from the company’s CFO that it is “seeing acceleration in January relative to our order growth in December as well as in Q4.” That’s encouraging. On the flip side, the company’s CFO did say “starting from Q2 onwards, we’re going to see a reversion toward pre-COVID behavior within the customer base.”

Takeaway: Big companies are anticipating a return to pre-COVID behavior, just not quite yet. Firms that benefited from COVID-19 are being heavily scrutinized. And they expect tailwinds to fade as the year progresses.

And then there’s Airbnb, which is up around 16% today. Why? It beat revenue expectations, while also losing lots of money. Airbnb’s net loss in Q4 2020 was more than 10x DoorDash’s own. So why did Airbnb get a bump while DoorDash got dinged? Its large revenue beat ($859 million, instead of an expected $748 million), and potential for future growth; investors are expecting that Airbnb’s current besting of expectations will lead to even more growth down the road.

Takeaway: Provided that you have a good story to tell regarding future growth, investors are still willing to accept sharp losses; the growth trade is alive, then, even as companies that may have already received a boost endure increased scrutiny.

For startups, valuation pressure or lift could come down to which side of the pandemic they are on; are they on the tail end of their tailwind (remote-work focused SaaS, perhaps?), or on the ascent (restaurant tech, maybe?). Something to chew on before you raise.

Market Notes

It was one blistering week for funding rounds. Crunchbase News, my former journalistic home, has a great piece out on just how many massive rounds we’re seeing so far this year. But even one or two steps down in scale, funding activity was super busy.

A few rounds that I could not get to this week that caught my eye included a $90 million round for Terminus (ABM-focused GTM juicer, I suppose), Anchorage’s $80 million Series C (cryptostorage for big money), and Foxtrot Market’s $42 million Series B (rapid delivery of yuppie and zoomer essentials).

Sitting here now, finally writing a tidbit about each, I am reminded at the sheer breadth of the tech market. Termius helps other companies sell, Anchorage wants to keep your ETH safe, while Foxtrot wants to help you replenish your breakfast rosé stock before you have to endure a dry morning. What a mix. And each must be generating venture-acceptable growth, as they have not merely raised more capital but raised rather large rounds for their purported maturity (measured by their listed Series stage, though the moniker can be more canard than guide.)

I jokingly call this little section of the newsletter Market Notes, a jest as how can you possibly note the whole market that we care about? These companies and their recent capital infusions underscore the point.

Various and Sundry

Finally, two notes from earnings calls. The first from Root, which is a head scratcher, and the second from Booking Holdings’ results.

I chatted with Alex Timm, Root Insurance’s CEO this week moments after it dropped numbers. As such I didn’t have much context in the way of investor response to its results. My read was that Root was super capitalized, and has pretty big expansion plans. Timm was upbeat about his company’s improving economics (on a loss ratio and loss-adjusted expenses basis, for the insurtech fans out there), and growth during the pandemic.

But then today its shares are off 16%. Parsing the analyst call, there’s movement in Root’s economic profile (regarding premium-ceding variance over the coming quarters) that make it hard to fully grok its full-year growth from where I sit. But it appears that Root’s business is still molting to a degree that is almost refreshing; the company could have gone public in 2022 with some of its current evolution behind it, but instead it raised a zillion dollars last year and is public now.

Sticking our neck out a bit, despite fellow neo-insurnace player Lemonade’s continued, and impressive valuation run, MetroMile’s stock is also softening, while Root’s has lost more than half its value from its IPO date. If the current repricing of some neo-insurance players continues, we could see some private investment into the space slow. (Fewer things like this?) It’s a possible trend we’ll have eyes on this year.

Next, Booking Holdings, the company that owns Priceline and other travel properties. Given that Booking might have notes regarding the future of business travel — which we care about for clues regarding what could come for remote work and office culture, things that impact everything from startup hub locations to software sales — The Exchange snagged a call slot and dialed the company up.

Booking Holdings’ CEO Glenn Fogel didn’t have a comment as to how his company is trading at all-time highs despite suffering from sharp year-over-year revenue declines. He did note that the pandemic has shaken up expectations for conversations, which could limit short-term business travel in the future for meetings that may now be conducted on video calls. He was bullish on future conference travel (good news for TechCrunch, I suppose), and future travel more generally.

So concerning the jetting perspective, we don’t know anything yet. Booking Holdings is not saying much, perhaps because it just doesn’t know when things will turn around. Fair enough. Perhaps after another three months of vaccine rollout will give us a better window into what a partial return to an old normal could look like.

And to cap off, you can read Apex Holdings’ SPAC presentation here, and Markforged’s here. Also I wrote about the buy-now-pay-later space here, riffed on the Digital Ocean IPO with Ron Miller here, and doodled on Toast’s valuation and the Olo debut here.

Hugs, and have a lovely weekend!

Alex

 

How capital-as-a-service can help you get your first check in 2021

“A lot of founders mix up raising money with making money.”

This quote, which Career Karma founder Ruben Harris mentioned off-hand on a phone call with me, has been on my mind for months. In fact, raising money can cost you money, in the form of that sweet, sweet ownership and equity.

That’s why Clearbanc, a startup I have covered for years, has always had a compelling pitch.

The company, co-founded by Michele Romanow and Andrew D’Souza, positions itself as an alternative equity-free capital solution for early-stage founders. Flexing its “20-minute term sheet” the startup uses an algorithm to shift through a startup’s data, and if it has positive ad spend and positive unit economics, they make an investment worth anything from $10,000 to over $10 million. It makes money through a revenue-share agreement versus an equity stake.

“While we’ve invested in over 4,000 businesses using this model, we’ve also turned away over 50,000 who weren’t at this scale or level of repeatability,” D’Souza tells TechCrunch. So, the startup told me this week that they have raised $10 million to create a new product: ClearAngel.

The startup is trying to back anyone with an online business that has early revenue, but pre-broad traction. Clearbanc wants to replace friends and family money, a concept that D’Souza says is “quite elitist,” with its own version of an angel check, while also offering founder services such as supply chain analysis, introductions to networks and competitive landscape analysis.

The startup just needs to make around $1,000 in monthly revenue to qualify for cash. In return for an investment between $10,000 to $50,000, founders have to pay up to 2% of their revenue over four years.

Clearbanc’s repayment works for some startups, but for others, a traditional bank loan could work better. Its biggest hurdle, I’d argue, is that if a startup has great revenue already, you might not want to take a revenue-share agreement loan.

As for if a startup takes ClearAngel capital and doesn’t make the minimum revenue?

“Then the ClearAngel product isn’t working,” he said. “There are bound to be some companies who still can’t make it, that’s the risk we take.”

Alternative capital has pros and cons, just like venture capital has pros and cons. If the end goal is to become a billion-dollar business, what’s the best route to do that? Is taking a revenue-share agreement going to hurt your chances as a pre-seed startup trying to raise capital? Does YC care at all?

Those are some of my biggest questions, and we’ll explore all (and more!) in my alternative financing panel next week for TC Sessions: Justice. It costs $5 to attend the entire conference, and speakers include Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton and Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Remember that you can get Startups Weekly in your inbox before anyone else, if you subscribe. It’s free! As always, you can find me @nmasc_ on Twitter or e-mail me at [email protected] That is free too!

Coinbase files to go public

After being valued at $100 billion in the secondary markets, Coinbase has finally filed to go public. The S-1, as Winnie founder Sara Mauskopf tweeted, is #goals. The crypto unicorn, as my colleague Alex Wilhelm notes, grew just over 139% in 2020, a massive improvement on its 2019 results.

Here’s what to know:

Other notes:

Coinbase Co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 07: Coinbase Co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Mobility-as-a-service

I caught up with Eric Eldon, managing editor at TechCrunch and former Startups Weekly writer, about the recent work he’s been doing with Kirsten Korosec, our transportation editor.

Here’s what he had to say: Startup employees may not be going into the office as often again — or ever. But everyone will still need to go places, or at least want to! How will they do it? What will we do? How will our altered set of needs and wants reshape cities, right as new technologies are fundamentally altering transportation, too? We’re going to be covering this topic in-depth this year, as we all figure out how to go back to work.

Other reading:

TechCrunch Mobility

Crazy ride on the night by car. Image Credits: franckreporter/Getty Images.

Spain wants startups to succeed on its soil

The Spanish government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has announced plans to turn itself into an entrepreneurial nation. The Startup Act is the first piece of dedicated legislation meant to help create tech innovation within Spain. The goals are to promote innovation, new capital through domestic and foreign investments, and to seed the future of Spain as a hub for new companies.

Here’s what to know: Driving innovation can start with relaxing on regulatory concerns.

Among a package of some 50 support measures, the entrepreneurial strategy makes a reference to “smart regulation” and floats the idea of sandboxing for testing products publicly (i.e. without needing to worry about regulatory compliance first).

Other news this week:

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

Some personal news

As loyal Equity listeners may have already noticed, we’ve been quietly experimenting with the concept of adding on a third show to our weekly production. This week, we told the world! Along with our current shows, which help listeners start and end the week with tech news, we’re going to bring on a Wednesday deep dive into a topic, subject area or person. Our first mid-week episode went live this week, and it was all about space (so yes, expect a lot of puns and Elon jokes).

The show is about to celebrate its four-year anniversary, and I’m about to celebrate my one-year anniversary as a co-host. We’re all so thankful for your support, and can’t wait to bring you more laughs and learnings.

Our latest episodes:

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

The startup bootcamp you’ve always needed is finally here

Scoop: VCs are chasing Hopin upwards of $5-6B valuation

Lisbon’s startup scene rises as Portugal gears up to be a European tech tiger

Sources: Lightspeed Venture Partners is close to hiring a London-based partner to put down roots in Europe

Contra wants to be a community for independent workers

Seen on Extra Crunch

Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig: The objective of pricing is to become less wrong over time

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings

4 essential truths about venture investing

And that’s the jam-packed week! As an insider tip to those that subscribe, I’m starting to cover health tech (along with edtech) for the TC team. So throw me the smartest person you know on the topic, and extra points if that’s you.

N

Storm Ventures promotes Pascale Diaine and Frederik Groce to partners

Storm Ventures, a venture firm that focuses on early stage B2B enterprise startups, announced this week that it has promoted Pascale Diaine and Frederik Groce to partners at the firm.

The two new partners have worked their way up over the last several years. Groce joined Storm in 2016 and has invested in enterprise SaaS startups like Workato, Splashtop, NextRequest and Camino. Diaine joined a year later and has invested in firms like Sendoso, German Bionic, InEvent and Talkdesk.

Groce, who is also a founder at BLCK VC and helped organize the Black Venture Institute to create a network of Black investors, says that these promotions show that venture needs to be more diverse, and Storm recognizes this.  “If you think about the way our team works, that’s the way I think venture teams will need to work to be able to be successful in the next 40 years. And so the hope is that over time everyone does this and we’re just early to it,” Groce told me.

Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case, not even close. According to research by Crunchbase, just 12% of venture capitalists are women and two-thirds of firms don’t have any female investors. Meanwhile, only about 4% of ventures investors are Black.

Those numbers have an impact on the number of Black and female founders because as Groce points out the lack of founders in underrepresented groups is in part a networking problem. “In a business that’s predicated on networks if you don’t have diversity in the network, or the teams that are driving those networks, you just can’t make sure you’re seeing great talent across all ecosystems,” he said.

Diaine, who is French and started her career by founding Orange Fab, the corporate accelerator of the European Telco Orange, has brought her international business background to Storm where they helped her tune that experience to an investor focus and supported her as she learned the nuances of the investment side of the business.

“I don’t come from the VC world. I come from the innovative corporate world. So they had to train me and spend time getting me up to date. And they did spend so much time making sure I understood everything to make sure I got to this level,” she said.

Both partners bring their own unique views looking beyond Silicon Valley for investment opportunities. Diaine’s investment include a German, Brazilian and Portuguese company, while Groce’s investments include companies in Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.

The two partners have also developed an algorithm to help find investments based on a number of online signals, something that has become more important during the pandemic when they couldn’t network in person.

“Frederik and I have been working on [an algorithm to find] what are the signals that you can identify online that will tell you this company’s doing well, this company growing.You have to have a nice set of startup search tracking [signals], but what do you track if you can’t just get the revenue in real time, which is impossible. So we’ve developed an algorithm that helps us identify some of these signals and create alerts on which startups we should pay attention to,” Diaine explained.

She says this data-driven approach should be helpful and augment their in-person efforts even after the pandemic is over and increase their overall efficiency in finding and tracking companies in their portfolios.

 

This Week in Apps: Twitter targets creators, Clubhouse security, Spotify’s plans for paid podcasts

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. A new forecast this week expects consumer spend to grow to $270 billion by 2025.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into what’s next for the future of one of the top social apps (Twitter), as well as Spotify’s latest announcements around its future plans for podcasts and subscriptions, along with other top stories, including the Clubhouse security problem.

Top Stories

Twitter wakes up

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter over the years has been slow to roll out new features that dramatically impact its platform — even going so far at one time to build an entirely separate app just to test a new way to link together conversation threads. Its slow momentum and failure to build features users actually want, like an edit button, has left Twitter feeling a lot like the same experience it was in its earlier years — a public SMS of sorts (albeit one with more utilities for tweet discovery and management).

This has also contributed slow user growth, which opened up Twitter last year to pressure from activist investors to oust CEO Jack Dorsey, who was then planning to move to Africa, while also still running Square. (He decided not to go because of the pandemic… and, well, to keep his job, we’d guess.) Following this more intensive scrutiny of Twitter’s operations, the company in recent months has begun to speed things up on the product front.

Last year, it rolled out to its global audience a stories-like feature called Fleets, offering a place for more ephemeral content to live on its platform. It began development on a Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, which is surging ahead with updates and new features. And it’s working on a community-led misinformation debunking effort, Birdwatch.

Twitter also began to make a series of acquisitions to build out its product teams, with additions like social app Squad, stories template maker Chroma Labs and podcasting app Breaker. And more recently, it bought newsletter platform Revue, which is already integrated on the Twitter website.

And it’s not done. This week, Twitter announced even more new products were in the works.

One, a new product called “Super Follow,” represents Twitter’s first-ever paid feature. The idea with the Super Follow is to turn Twitter into a platform where creators can monetize their fan base — with a “Super Follow” subscription, fans can access member-only perks. These can include whatever the creator wants — newsletters, videos, deals, community access and even paywalled content like tweets, fleets and audio chats in Twitter Spaces.

Along with this, Twitter introduced “Communities,” which, in addition to allowing social networking around interests, give Super Follow-using creators a place to organize their own private networks.

And it’s finally working on tools to auto-block and mute the trolls, too. 🙌

To put it mildly, this strategy represents one of the more radical shake-ups to Twitter’s platform to date. It not only challenges other networks — like Facebook, Discord, Patreon, Substack and Clubhouse — it positions Twitter’s slew of new features not just as fun add-ons, but rather as general-purpose tools that allow anyone to build and grow their own communities whichever way they want.

The one big miss on this front is that Twitter no longer has its own social video app to throw in the mix, too. Sadly, the company shut down both Vine and now, Periscope. Though Twitter itself supports video, Vine’s closure led to a hole in the market that’s since been filled by TikTok. And unfortunately, sharing TikTok links on Twitter is poor experience — they just display as previews that take you to a new TikTok tab when clicked. To get TikTok videos to play in-line, you have to download them first — something not all creators permit.

Nevertheless, Twitter is expecting the changes to help it to double its revenues by 2023, and grow its daily user base to 315 million, up from the 192 million it has today.

Spotify looks to new subscriptions for revenue growth

Image Credits: Spotify/Anchor

Twitter isn’t the only one looking to new subscriptions to make more money. Spotify this week also announced a good handful of updates, including a high-end Premium add-on for higher-quality music streams, called Spotify HiFi.

The company also confirmed its plans to test paid podcast subscriptions. The big bet here is that some podcasts are so compelling and have such a loyal fanbase that listeners will pay for their content, or maybe just their extras. These, of course, will no longer really be “podcasts” at this point — they’re paid audio programs. The feature will be introduced to Spotify’s creation app Anchor this spring.

But overeager adoption of paywalls by podcasters (who can’t make a living from their ad sales) could push more users to new social audio platforms, like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, where content is free and conversations are more participatory. Anchor’s solution for audience engagement is to roll out Q&As and polls. But why bother clicking, when you can hit up a Clubhouse room and talk?

Clubhouse’s exclusivity leads to discovery of security problems

The demand for Clubhouse access is becoming so high that people are figuring out ways to reverse-engineer the experience, TechCrunch reported this week. A developer found a way to broadcast Clubhouse audio feeds in real time to users who couldn’t get in because they didn’t have an invite or an iPhone. Though Clubhouse blocked the effort later in the week, the fact that a developer was able to gain access to Clubhouse audio feeds in the first place was an indication that the app isn’t as locked down as one might think.

In addition, other researchers have figured out ways to “ghost listen” to rooms without displaying user profiles — essentially, eavesdropping. And users in China appear to be able to listen to a room conversation facilitated by Clubhouse’s service provider Agora by using a VPN — even though they can’t technically “join” a room due to the app itself being banned.

Clubhouse’s appeal has a lot to do with how its social audio spaces aren’t recorded, so people can be themselves. There’s an expectation that you are only speaking to a group who’s listening and there’s no way to go back for a transcript or recording later. In other words, it’s not a podcast — it’s live. It’s social. And it’s semi-private.

These security breaches prove that’s not entirely true.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple added guidance for app developers to help them complete App Store privacy labels. Specifically, it added information about data types, like email and messages, and gameplay content. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, Google added a privacy label to Gmail this week, too.

Apple’s “Sign in with Apple” button is now a part of the U.S. DoJ antitrust investigation against the company, reports The Information. Apple requires the option on all apps that offer sign-in buttons from other companies, like Facebook and Google, which has upset some developers. Investigators are looking to better understand how use of the button makes it more difficult for Apple device users to switch to other platforms.

Apple Entrepreneur Camp applications opened up for female founders and developers. The camp will run online July 20-29, 2021, offering attendees code-level guidance, mentorship, plus access to Apple engineers.

Apple tweaked the subscription “buy sheet” in iOS 14.5 beta. The new screen aims to make the price of an app’s subscription more clear to end users.

Apple hid an Easter egg in its Apple Store app to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

Platforms: Google

Google this week announced the next set of features coming to Android in its spring 2021 release. Flagship items include a password checkup tool and a way to schedule your texts (!!!). The latter means you can compose a message at any time, then pick the time you want it to send. iMessage, your turn! Other improvements included updates to the screen reader TalkBack, Maps (which gets a dark mode default option), Assistant and Android Auto.

Google launches an Android Sleep API for use in health and wellness apps. The new API will use the phone’s light and motion sensors in combination with an onboard API model to generate information like a “sleep confidence” determination and daily sleep segments.

Food & Drink

Food delivery app DoorDash stock falls after its first earnings. The company reported $970 million in revenue versus $938 million expected and a loss per share of $2.67. But shares dropped as much as 13% on DoorDash’s forecast, which said some of the earlier tailwinds it saw under stay-at-home orders in the U.S. will turn around as the country gets the vaccine under control.

Food delivery apps got a boost during the Lunar New Year holiday week in China, thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions that kept people at home and prompted more remote gift deliveries, in particular food orders from services like Meituan and Alibaba’s Ele.me.

Augmented Reality

An iPhone app called Museum Alive, reviewed by The Verge, includes narration from Sir David Attenborough as an extension of his Natural History Museum Alive film. The app includes interactive AR exhibits with extinct animals in their own habitats.

Fintech

Mobile investing app Robinhood reports seeing 6 million new customers on Robinhood Crypto just this year. By comparison, the number peaked at 401,000 customers in a single month in 2020, with a monthly average of 200,000 customers trading on Robinhood Crypto for the first time.

Google emailed users of the old Google Pay app and website that they’ll lose transactional capabilities on April 5 and will need to switch to the updated Google Pay app instead.

Social

Image Credits: Snap

At Snap’s investor day, the company projected 50% annual revenue growth for the next several years. The company spoke of the app’s main features — Camera, Map, Chat, Stories and Spotlight — each which it believes to be multibillion-dollar revenues streams in the long-term. It also talked about its investments in AR, Snap Ads, Shows, Stories and its TikTok rival, Spotlight. Investors responded favorably to the news, with shares up 11% on Tuesday, pushing the company’s valuation over $100 billion.

Instagram adds its TikTok rival, Reels, to its slimmed-down Instagram Lite app aimed at emerging markets. Some are already dubbing it “bloatware.”

TikTok partners with Portland Timbers and Thorns FC in its first U.S. soccer deal. The multi-year deal will have the clubs distributing video content in collaboration with TikTok, and will see the clubs featuring the TikTok logo on their jerseys.

TikTok owner ByteDance agrees to $92 million privacy settlement with U.S. TikTok users after a year of litigation. The claims in the lawsuits said TikTok was using a broad array of biometric data and content from user devices for ad targeting and profit. TikTok said it disagrees with the assertions but wanted to put an end to the lengthy litigation.

TikTok’s latest transparency report for H2 2020 said the app removed over 300,000 election misinformation videos, and another 400,000 from the For You page. The percentage of deletions were in line with the prior report, despite the busy election season it covered.

The Washington Post reports conservative backer Rebekah Mercer, whose family also funds Breitbart, now controls two of the three board seats at right-wing Twitter alternative, Parler. The app’s founding CEO John Matze was pushed out last month, and Mercer has since exerted more control over the company’s direction.

Twitter banned 100 accounts linked to Russian troll farms. The accounts were caught up in part of a larger enforcement action Twitter took against 373 accounts with connections to Armenia, Iran and Russia. The Russian accounts were being used to amplify talking points in favor of the Russian government.

Facebook tests new tools to combat child exploitation. One tool will pop up a message for people who use search terms linked to child exploitation that reminds them of the consequences and points them to resources to get help from offender diversion organizations. Another will alert users to the legal ramifications of sharing viral, meme child exploitative content. The company also updated its child safety policies and updated its reporting menu across FB and IG to include a section for a report that “involves a child.”

Top social apps including TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest added new features to support those with eating disorders as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 22-28). Among the changes, TikTok and Instagram added features to encourage body inclusivity; TikTok now redirects some eating disorder searches to point to support resources; Instagram added links to local helplines in Australia, Canada and the U.K.; Pinterest donated credits to encourage people to tune into NED Awareness events; and more.

Photos

Flickr rolled out a widget for both iOS and Android devices. The widget lets you enjoy a rotating selection of photos from Explore on your home screen — great for someone looking for variety, instead of a static home screen.

Messaging / Communications

Telegram adds an auto-delete option for all messages, which lets users automatically delete messages after either 24 hours or seven days. The feature was previously available only for its encrypted Secret Chats. It also added expiring invite links and an option to create broadcast-only groups.

WhatsApp details what will happen when users don’t agree to the privacy changes by the May 15, 2021 deadline. It said for a short time (a few weeks), the users will be able to receive calls and notifications, but won’t be able to read or send messages, to give them more time to agree.

More Google Hangouts users are being migrated over to the Google Chat “preview” experience. The company had said it would split Hangouts into two services, Chat and Meet. The transition began last year, but personal account holders had only been told “early 2021” for their migration date. Early reports (see below) say the new experience is lacking when it comes to video call integration and lack of SMS support.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: YouTube

YouTube announced it will roll out parental control features for families with tweens and teens that will allow them to graduate more safely from the YouTube Kids app to “real YouTube.” Parents will be able grant kids more access through their “supervised” Google Account, then choose from one of of three levels of YouTube access ranging from a selection that’s more tween-friendly to another that’s more appropriate for older teens. By using the account, parents are also agreeing to allow YouTube to collect personal data from the kids — something it couldn’t do in YouTube Kids.

Disney’s adult-friendly Star channel launched outside the U.S. to Disney+ subscribers in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The additional channel combines content from Disney Television Studios, FX, 20th Century Studios and 20th Television, and bumps Disney+ price up by a small amount (a few pounds in the U.K., e.g.). Parental controls were also added to block kids from accessing the more adult fare.

South Korean media reported the country’s current prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has joined Clubhouse, making him the most senior political leader to join the growing app.

Gaming

Image Credits: GameSnacks

Google’s mobile-friendly online games, GameSnacks, developed by its Area 120 in-house incubator, are being integrated into Chrome on iOS and Android Pay in select emerging markets. The HTML5-powered games are a way that Google is routing around app stores, and instead delivering gaming content to users without the associated app store fees. It’s also a more lightweight model for gaming, which helps in some markets where storage space and bandwidth are concerns. The company is experimenting with bringing the games to Google Assistant next.

Chinese mobile games released on the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store raked in $5.8 billion during Q24 2020, up 34.3% from a year ago, and accounting for over a quarter of the world’s mobile gaming revenues, per Sensor Tower data. Top titles include big names like Call of Duty (a collaboration between Tencent and Activision) and Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. as well as those from smaller studios such as Mihoyo’s Genshin Impact and Magic Tavern’s Project Makeover.

In the ongoing Epic Games versus Apple legal showdown in the U.S., Epic is now trying to locate former iOS software chief Scott Forstall to testify, after Apple said Forstall didn’t respond to its request to appear.

Meanwhile, a U.K. court blocked Epic Games from challenging Apple’s Fortnite ban. The court said Epic’s lawsuit against Apple would be better to pursue in the U.S., but allowed the suit against Google to continue.

Epic Games is sending players V-Bucks to settle its Fornite loot box class action lawsuit. The settlement is supposed to be for U.S. players only, but Epic is offering the V-Bucks to global players.

Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service, which lets users stream games across platforms including Windows, Mac, Android, web browsers on iPhone and iPad and desktop, has now arrived on Amazon’s Fire TV devices in an expansion of its early access program.

App Annie announces new features to help customers discover gaming launches, as well as measure and visualize performance of games. The features include RPD (revenue per download), Align Apps by Launch, Cumulative Downloads and Cumulative Revenue, and a Soft Launches Report.

A floating gaming toolbar has been found in the code of the Android 12 Developer Preview. Full details are not available but one button is a picture of a game controller while the other is suspected to be some sort of option to record your current gaming session.

Social casino game Coin Master from Moon Active tops $2 billion in lifetime player spending, reports Sensor Tower. The title booked $1.2 billion in 2020 alone, up 122.4% year-over-year, boosted by pandemic boredom and in-game spending.

Zynga is creating its own first-party walled garden for ad tech, due to Apple’s push for app tracking transparency. More companies could do the same, argues Mobile Dev Memo.

Health & Fitness

The New York Department of Financial Services said in an investigative report that Facebook has now taken steps to prevent it from collecting unauthorized data about people’s medical conditions, The WSJ reported. The company had been collecting the data through its SDK installed in numerous apps, then matches the sensitive, personal data to users’ Facebook accounts for ad targeting. One app involved, period tracker Flo, separately settled with the FTC in January over its involvement.

Media

Australia’s ABC News app hit the top of the App Store following the upheaval related to Facebook’s ban of Australian news sources on its platform. The app become No. 1 in News and No. 2 Overall, ahead of Facebook and its other apps, including Messenger and Instagram.

Funding and M&A

💰 YouTuber David Dobrik’s retro photo app raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Spark Capital. The app’s gimmick is that it allows you to snap photos in an old-fashioned camera interface where photos don’t “develop” until the next morning. The TestFlight, capped at 10,000 users, was full within a weekend of launching.

💰 Celebrity video platform memmo raised $10 million Series A, in a round led by Left Lane Capital. The concept is similar to U.S.-based Cameo, but Stockholm-based memmo’s strategy is both global and localized.

💰 Snack, a TikTok-like dating app, raised $3.5 million in a round led by Kindred Ventures and Coelius Capital. The startup was founded by early (Match Group-owned) Plenty of Fish exec Kimberly Kaplan, and targets Gen Z by way of a video feed with likes and comments that lead to DMs.

💰 AI-powered transcription service Otter, available on web and mobile, raised $50 million ($40 million in new funds) Series B. The service got a boost from the pandemic and its Zoom integration.

💰 Spain’s Wallapop raised $191 million at an $840 million valuation for its classifieds marketplace. The funding was led by Korelya Capital, a French VC fund backed by Korea’s Naver. The app was previously going to merge with U.S.-based LetGo, but later shelved those plans. (LetGo instead was bought by OfferUp.)

🤝 Austrian app marketer App Radar acquired Spanish rival TheTool. At the time of the deal, TheTool provided data insights for some 400 app marketing clients. The assets-only deal will allow App Radar to expand its presence across Europe.

💰 Indian edtech startup Doubtnut raised $31 million for its website and app that help students learn math and science. The app lets students take a photo of the problem, then uses ML and image recognition to deliver the answer in the form of short videos.

🤝 Design platform Canva, which works on both web and mobile, acquired Kaleido, the maker of a drag-and-drop background removal service, remove.bg, for photos and videos. It also bought Smartmockups in the Czech Republic, which lets anyone create mockups for t-shirts, mugs and other items.

🤝 Podcast host and ad network Acast bought RadioPublic, a maker of tools for podcasters, including a website maker, marketing tools, and the RadioPublic podcast app. The latter will remain live and the team will stay in the U.S.

💰 Copenhagen-based Podimo, a subscription service for podcasts, raised €11.2 million in funding. The app offers access to over 600 exclusive shows, and shares its revenue from subscriptions with its creators.

❓Beijing-based tutoring app Yuanfudao is said to be raising funding at a $20 billion+ valuation. The funding would follow a prior $2.2 billion round that valued the business at $15.5 billion.

📈 Roblox shares to begin trading March 10. The cross-platform gaming service, which is popular on mobile, has opted for a direct listing instead of an IPO.

Downloads

Quill

Image Credits: Quill

A new Slack competitor, Quill, launched out of stealth this week, TechCrunch reported, with its apps for the web, Mac, Windows, Linux and Android and iOS on mobile. Like Slack, Quill lets co-workers communicate through channels, video and voice. But it also addresses some of the issues Slack overlooks. One, “structured channels,” lets admins enforce threads, for example. It also automatically moves up active conversations, limits notifications, has improved pinning, supports moving threads between channels and places video and chat side-by-side, to name a few. You can even interact with Quill via SMS and email.

ANDY’s apps

Image Credits: ANDY

Andy Allen, former head of Product at WeTransfer, teamed up with Mark Dawson, the lead graphics engineer from Allen’s former prior company Fifty Three, to create a new set of “default” apps with ANDY. That is, the company’s new apps aim to update your basic set — like weather, calculator and timer.

“Most of the default apps haven’t changed over the last 10 years. Yet we’re still using them. I see that as a sign that we’ll still need basic apps like weather, calculator and timer in another 10 years,” notes Allen.

Image Credits: ANDY

What makes ANDY apps different is that they’re built inside a game engine to unlock new experiences that makes them feel more like games themselves. They’re also skinnable, with three skins available at launch and more to come every few months. The apps require a subscription to work — either $14.99/yr for all apps and basic skins or $69.99/yr for all apps plus basic and limited-edition skins, as well as limited-edition collector cards. The company plans to expand its app collection over time.

YouWidget

Image Credits: YouWidget

Spotted this week by the folks at iMore, the new YouWidget delivers a YouTube iOS widget that puts a live video feed on your home screen along with other stats. For YouTubers and fans alike, the app could be useful in helping to track a specific channel’s releases and their other subscriptions. But even if you don’t need live videos, the app offers a widget with statistics for any channel — including subscriber counts, views and video counts.

If you haven’t followed NFTs, here’s why you should start

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) — or scarce digital content represented as tokens — are driving a new wave of crypto adoption.

Thanks to the Ethereum blockchain, artists, gaming companies and content creators alike are utilizing token standards, which ascribe provenance to uniquely distinguishable assets. NFTs first made headlines in 2017 when Dapper Labs’ game CryptoKitties accounted for 95% of Ethereum network usage at its peak. While someone paying $170,000 for a digital cat seemed like an anomaly, what’s happening today blows that headline out of the water.

Platforms like Nifty Gateway, SuperRare, Foundation and Zora are quickly emerging as the leading players for creatives to monetize work in a digital world.

The estimated total value of crypto art has now passed $100 million according to cryptoart.io/data — just one vertical of a growing ecosystem of NFTs.

Collectible mania

Just as we’ve seen an alternative asset class form around physical collectibles like Pokémon cards, NFTs are starting to showcase what this universe of rare hallmark brands looks like online.

NBA Top Shot has seen close to $10 million in 24h volume according to CryptoSlam, with more than $100 million of “moments” being sold in less than one year of being live. The parent company behind NBA Top Shot, Dapper Labs, is said to be raising a $250 million round at a $2 billion valuation, as reported by The Block.

Niche collectibles like CryptoPunks — or 10,000 unique collectible characters with scarce traits and qualities — now have a base floor of roughly $18,000 a piece. Just recently, Punk 4156 sold for 650 ETH, equivalent to roughly $1.3 million at today’s prices.

Crypto art paradigms

Graphic designs and 3D designers are finding new platforms to showcase their work, with marketplaces like Nifty Gateway facilitating Supreme style drops for exclusive digital art.

Mad Dog Jones recently set a record for $3.9 million worth of art sold in one sale, topping the previous record held by beeple for his $3.5 million “Everydays 2020 Collection” drop. No wonder top art galleries like Christies are asking to team up.

With Bitcoin and Etherium reaching all-time high prices and investors looking for new places to allocate capital, the crypto art movement has given power back to the creatives.

Vibrant collector communities like FlamingoDAO are forming around these drops, while protocols like Zora are quickly starting to support NFTs of all different verticals.

Musicians like Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Fort Minor has released NFTs as a part of their strategy for his new single “Happy Endings” featuring popstar Iann Dior. EDM DJ and producer 3LAU is tokenizing his debut album “Ultraviolet” and Grammy-award winning musician RAC broke the SuperRare record for the highest NFT primary sale with his piece “Elephant Dreams.”

I even sold a blog post for 2 ETH (or roughly $4,000) using a crypto media publication called Mirror!

Why should I care?

NFTs have exposed a creative side of crypto that is not only fun to play, but digestible and accessible to new users. As bigger names host their first NFT drops, they bring a new wave of attention to their millions of followers noticing crypto for the first time.

This leaves people in a unique position to curate and discover this growing wave of scarce digital content. Showtime is aggregating NFTs to offer an Instagram-like experience, and the forthcoming music-specific NFT marketplace Catalog is creating a digital record store.

As Nifty Gateway drops continue to sell out in seconds thanks to credit card payments and free transactions, new collectors are finding ways to collect their favorite artists and brands — a trend that is likely to take better form over the coming years.

Areas of improvement

While the sales figures showcase a clear demand for NFTs, it’s not without hiccups.

More on NFT

The vast majority of NFT platforms today require users to be familiar with Ethereum wallets like MetaMask. This means collectors need to purchase ETH from an exchange like Coinbase and send it to a non-custodial address that consists of a long string of numbers and letters to get started.

Once they’re there, they need to pay upwards of $100 worth of fees to make a transaction and place a bid. The same goes for artists creating NFTs, causing community funds like MintFund to pop up and cover the operational costs of launching their first NFT.

Luckily, platforms like Audius are addressing these pain points head on. With 2 million monthly active users — the most of any Ethereum application today — Audius replaced MetaMask with an email and password login wallet called Hedgehog. By removing key management and transaction costs, users are able to access the wonderful world of crypto without significant start-up costs.

NFT bubble?

What’s happening in the NFT ecosystem today is nothing short of a paradigm shift for a maturing sector of cryptocurrencies. As avid collectors frame their digital art using companies like Infinite Objects, there’s no denying the vast majority of buyers are here to speculate. This increased demand signals interest, but is highly reminiscent of the 2017 ICO boom that caused the market to crash many years ago.

However, out of that multi-year bear market came a strong wave of foundational companies and products like Uniswap and Compound that are here to stay. It’s this writer’s bet that the same will happen with NFTs.

Until then, remember that digital content does have value, and crypto collectors are flocking to lay their namesake on the biggest collections of tomorrow.

6 Copenhagen investors share their outlook on investing in 2021

While Denmark and Copenhagen don’t often come up as a destination for European startups, it has a thriving local tech scene that’s home to some of the better startup conferences. After all, who doesn’t want to visit Copenhagen?

A highly educated population, great universities, excellent healthcare and great transport links to Europe make the city as good a place as any to start up a company.

Amongst our investors, we found the trends they were most interested in included sustainable supply chain logistics, esports and gaming, enterprise SaaS, climate tech, deep tech hardware, agritech and edtech. And many said they are interested in the future of work and the transition to different ways of working.

Companies they are excited by included: Afresh Technologies, Seaborg Technologies (nuclear reactors), Labster (virtual science labs), Normative.io (social and environmental impact measurement) and DEMI (connecting with chefs).

In general, investors said they are focused on their home ground but are also spreading their wings to the “New Nordics” (Nordic and Baltic) region. Some are also investing in large European and North American hub cities.

The “green shoots” of recovery they see are appearing in anything digital that comes with a community, as well as among startups that are able to leverage the pandemic to generate new business models that are faster than incumbents.


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We surveyed:


Sara Rywe, associate, byFounders

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Software and tech (I’m personally extra excited about the “future of work,” fintech, and “future of food”).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Digitail (a veterinary software provider solving the gap between the ever-growing expectations of millennial pet parents and the experience offered by veterinarians with their current tools).

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would like to see more founders with global ambitions in the “uniquely transformative” software category (the same way Airbnb transformed the hotel industry and Uber transformed the taxi industry). Many startups we see today are building a feature instead of a full solution and their vision is about making industries incrementally better. So, here’s a callout to all of you Nordic or Baltic visionary founders out there: Write me!

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We always look for competent, visionary and passionate founders building products that people love. As an industry-agnostic VC, we keep our eyes open for a range of different opportunities.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Some of the current trends that I see include:
Fintech: salary advances, factoring, sustainability reporting and measurements.
Food tech: alternative protein, pet food, food waste.
Future of work: virtual offices, collaboration, productivity tools.
If you decide to enter any of the above-mentioned industries, I therefore encourage you to really be thoughtful in how you differentiate yourself and/or how your team is better suited to execute on the mission.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
<50%. We invest across the Nordics and Baltics and I’m covering Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Denmark is very well positioned to succeed in sustainability and energy (many good talents coming from e.g., Vestas and DTU), consumer goods (there’s a large history in the country around building brands such as Lego, Carlsberg, etc.), and biotech (Novo Nordisk among others playing a big part). Moreover, software scaleups such as Peakon, Pleo, and Templafy are really leading the way for a new generation of tech startups to thrive in Denmark. When looking at Danish founder particularly, I’m very excited to see companies such as Qvin revolutionizing healthcare for women by using period blood as an opportunity for a noninvasive blood test.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
They should be very excited! Just look at what we’ve seen in 2021 so far:
Exits: Peakon $700 million exit and Humio $400 million exit.
Large rounds: Public.com raising $220 million, Vivino raising $115 million and Labster raising $60 million led by Andreessen Horowitz

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Somewhat. We already see a lot of innovation outside of Copenhagen in cities such as Aarhus and Odense.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
One industry that has been hit hard by COVID-19 is of course travel and hospitality. The flipside of this is that we see a lot of innovation due to that. Examples from our own portfolio include:
AeroGuest — a platform that allows for a “touch-free” travel experience (skipping lines and reception desks, direct online room booking, etc.).
BobW — a new type of sustainable travel accommodation bringing the best of both worlds: “home meets hotel.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy massively and we have the same focus as before (investing in software and tech). With that said, we are happy to see some industries getting an uplift in these difficult times, such as sustainability and impact.
The biggest worries of our portfolio company founders have been around volatility and uncertainty. Since the first lockdown our advice has been simple: You can’t control the outcome. We’ve therefore worked together to ensure that they have some proper scenario planning in place and that we think creatively of how to mitigate eventual negative effects on their business.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Tame — one of our portfolio companies — expanded their event platform to also include virtual events, which made it really take off in COVID times.
Corti — another portfolio company of ours — could in less than four weeks build a product for helping fight COVID-19 with artificial intelligence.
Both of these companies are good examples of how “adapting their products” due to the pandemic led to great results.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The sudden rise of awareness around impact and ESG among VCs! Several great conversations have been held on how to improve our ways of working.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Some of the extraordinary founders that I look up to from Denmark include:
Jakob Jønck (Simple Feast), Andreas Cleve and Lars Maaløe (Corti), Sara Naseri and Søren Therkelsen (Qvin), Niels Martin Brochner, Jarek Owczarek and Viktor Heide (Contractbook), Jacob Hansen, Esben Friis-Jensen, Jakob Storm and Christian Hansen (Cobalt) among others.
There’s also a range of great investors in Denmark including Helle Uth, Christel Piron, Alexander Viterbo-Horten and Anders Kjær amongst others at PreSeed Ventures and Daniel Nyvang Mariussen with his team at Bumble Ventures. Also, the Danish tech ecosystem would not be what it is without all the work that Vækstfonden does.

Mads Hørlyck, associate, Maersk Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Supply chain/logistics including sustainable supply chains.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Afresh Technologies.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
In general there are still plenty of opportunities across various parts of the supply chain. We have no particular specific preferences as such at the moment.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Digital solution to drive efficiencies across one or more subparts of the supply chain, both upstream and downstream focus.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Freight forwarding has been maturing in Europe and North America with several large startups in both regions. However, the market is still large but it requires a strong new model as it’s also low margins.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less/little focus on Denmark. Main priority in large European/North American hubs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Startups with the medical and supporting functions tech are doing well. We are excited about Onomondo in the Danish scene — also a portfolio company of ours.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
As an upcoming opportunity. Several tech hubs have been created and there is a general good environment including state-backed loans/pre-seed investments and fairly many angels to get going.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
We don’t expect any significant changes to the founder-environment in Denmark (too little country).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We see an increased focus on our investment area: Supply chain/logistics as people throughout the pandemic have been much more exposed to and dependent on flexible and reliable supply chains. All the way from supply resilience, supply chain visibility, fulfillment and to last-mile delivery. Consumers have the power to drive changes in supply chains.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Sales conversion rates decreasing/pipelines drying out. Advice is, like everyone else, to minimize cost and extend runway by getting as close to profitability as model allows. Based on this funding needs can be discussed.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we have seen some startups being able to leverage the pandemic over incumbents due to their more flexible and digital structure.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
We have yet to see a default wave both globally within our investment area but also in general in Denmark.

Henrik Møller Kristensen, associate, Bumble Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Some of the trends we’re excited about are (1) the growing market of digital media and entertainment, in particular esports and gaming, (2) enterprise SaaS, e.g., related to the future of work, (3) climate change solutions, e.g., deep tech hardware and software, and (4) e-commerce businesses, in particular digital native vertical brands and direct-to-consumer cases.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Products and services to satisfy the needs of the aging population. The number of elderly people will be growing significantly over the next decades, establishing a growing market for products and services to satisfy the needs from this demographic change and reduce the pressure on societies.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We highly value team and traction. We are looking for exceptional founders with strong competencies in engineering, product and commercial, preferably with years of experience from the industry they are entering with a new solution. We prefer some indication of product-market fit. We like methodical revenue growth driven by paying customers, rich cohort grids and controllable funnels that proves a robust core business. We don’t like products that are still 2-3 years away from monetization. This means that we will miss the next Facebook, but we are okay with that.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Traditional social media and apps that require millions of users before being able to turn on the business model. SaaS marketing tools also seem crowded.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Next week we will announce our first investment outside Denmark. This is our first step toward being present not only in Denmark, but in the Nordics.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Well-positioned industries in Denmark are medtech, fintech, gaming and clean tech. We’re excited about GamerzClass, Pie Systems, LeadFamly, Omnigame, Organic Basics, Cap desk, Roccamore, Too Good To Go, Pleo, Tradeshift, SYBO, Unity and more. Exceptional founders are Victor Folmann from GamerzClass, Sunny Long from Pie Systems, Frederikke Antonie Schmidt from Roccamore and Christian Gabriel from Capdesk.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Historically, there has been a need for more capital and talent to keep successful growth-stage startups in Denmark and not have to move to foreign countries to attract talent and capital. However, the investment climate is getting better. Greater access to capital and talent go hand in hand, and what is really changing the investment climate for the better is founders of successful Danish startups turning back to Denmark and reinvesting in the startup community.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I think we’ll see more attraction to remote work in the future. However, I believe it is important for startups to be close to other great like-minded startups, founders, advisors and investors, not only virtually but in real life. Establishing a great network and personal relationships are very important factors to succeed and remote is not suited very well for that in my opinion.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
The travel and hospitality industry look weaker and we’ll see a shift toward lower demand due to remote work and sustainability issues. On the other side, gaming, e-commerce and digital products and services are growing as you will have more people online behind the screens.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We are still happy to invest despite COVID-19. Gaming has, for example, been positively affected by COVID-19, however, many startups are also struggling due to COVID-19. The best a startup can do is to manage the runway, have close dialogue with their investors, cut costs and try to pivot to the changes. Look for opportunities, not boundaries.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Not yet. Only a few of our portfolio companies are negatively affected by COVID-19.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Investors are willing to make new investments and help out struggling portfolio companies. Founders are keeping their heads high and making the best out of the new circumstances. In some cases it actually stimulates new innovations.

Benjamin Ratz, partner, Nordic Makers

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Energy and the transition to a fossil fuel society, data as governance and the changing role of education.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Seaborg — building modular, small and safe nuclear reactors.
Labster — virtual science labs that help students all over the world immerse in science and STEM.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Improving the public sector.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Views on how and if the world has permanently changed in behavior due to the pandemic.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Micromobility, teledocs.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100%.

What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Willa. Corti.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
A lot of founders leaving success stories of the region.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come?
No but we expect the cities to produce more.

Mark Emil Hermansen, associate, Astanor

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Food and agrotech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
DEMI.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I’d love to see more food tech companies that “get food” — the human element of it that is. Too many startups focus only on the technology, less on the fact that it should be deeply human centered. This is so prevalent that I instinctively stay away from startups dubbing themselves as “food tech” — food is not tech and tech is not food and therein lies the challenge and the prize. Here’s a read that kind of sums it up.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Anything that reminds me of these first lines from “On The Road”: “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn …”.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
DNVB.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
25% local (DK is still immature from a startup standout — yet the opportunity is that the VC footprint is small and relatively unsophisticated).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Companies: Online communities such as DEMI.
Founder: Erez Galonska of Infarm.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Tons of opportunity if you have access to the right deal flow/pedigree.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Communities that transcend digital (like Tonsser and DEMI).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Worries: Uncertainty and recruitment strategy.
Advice: Survive and prepare.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Anything physical that has retail footprint. Anything digital that has a community footprint.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
That everyone’s pumped for what’s about to come (post-COVID) and the realization (or hope?) that nothing will be as before.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
Kasper Ottesen, Highbridge (legal).
Kasper Hulthin (entrepreneur and investor).
Christian Tang-Jespersen (investor).

Eric Lagier, managing partner, byFounders

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Future of work, productivity improvement platforms.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Normative.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Future of recruiting.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Passionate founders, solving big problems to build a better tomorrow.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are focused on the New Nordics (Nordic and Baltic) region having shown the biggest growth potential in Europe.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Climate tech, health tech, fintech. Normative, Corti, Lucinity.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Copenhagen is booming and there is now a strong foundation of experienced founders building really transformative companies.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
No — but I expect to see much more diverse teams with a priority on remote first.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
An acceleration of online, remote, e-commerce and general faster pace of transactions.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COvid-19 is a giant accelerator of future trends. Those founders that have adapted best will be the winners of tomorrow.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Absolutely.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
How founders persevere in these times of massive change.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
Jakob Jønck, founder, SimpleFeast; Kristian Rönn, founder, Normative; Andreas Cleve and Lars Maaløe, founders, Corti.

What the NFT? VC David Pakman dumbs down the digital collectibles frenzy and why it’s taking off now

Non-fungible tokens have been around for two years, but these NFTs, one-of-one digital items on the Ethereum and other blockchains, are suddenly becoming a more popular way to collect visual art, primarily, whether it’s an animated cat or an NBA clip or virtual furniture.

“Suddenly” is hardly an overstatement. According to the outlet Cointelegraph, during the second half of last year, $9 million worth of NFT goods sold to buyers; during one 24-hour window earlier this week, $60 million worth of digital goods were sold.

What’s going on? A thorough New York Times piece on the trend earlier this week likely fueled new interest, along with a separate piece in Esquire about the artist Beeple, a Wisconsin dad whose digital drawings, which he has created every single day for the last 13 years, began selling like hotcakes in December. If you need evidence of a tipping point (and it is ample right now), consider that the work of Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was just made available through Christie’s. It’s the venerable auction house’s first sale of exclusively digital work.

To better understand the market and why it’s blowing up in real time, we talked this week with David Pakman, a former internet entrepreneur who joined the venture firm Venrock a dozen years ago and began tracking Bitcoin soon after, even mining the cryptocurrency at his Bay Area home beginning in 2015. (“People would come over and see racks of computers, and it was like, ‘It’s sort of hard to explain.'”)

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he also became convinced early on of the promise of NFTs, persuading Venrock to lead the $15 million Series A round for a young startup, Dapper Labs, when its primary offering was CryptoKitties, limited-edition digital cats that can be bought and bred with cryptocurrency.

While the concept baffled some at the time, Pakman has long seen the day when Dapper’s offerings will be far more extensive, and indeed, a recent Dapper deal with the NBA to sell collectible highlight clips has already attracted so much interest in Dapper that it is reportedly right now raising $250 million in new funding at a post-money valuation of $2 billion. While Pakman declined to confirm or correct that figure, but he did answer our other questions in a chat that’s been edited here for length and clarity.

TC: David, dumb things down for us. Why is the world so gung-ho about NFTs right now?

DP: One of the biggest problems with crypto — the reason it scares so many people — is it uses all these really esoteric terms to explain very basic concepts, so let’s just keep it really simple. About 40% of humans collect things — baseball cards, shoes, artwork, wine. And there’s a whole bunch of psychological reasons why. Some people have a need to complete a set. Some people do it for investment reasons. Some people want an heirloom to pass down. But we could only collect things in the real world because digital collectibles were too easy to copy.

Then the blockchain came around and [it allowed us to] make digital collectibles immutable, with a record of who owns what that you can’t really copy. You can screenshot it, but you don’t really own the digital collectible, and you won’t be able to do anything with that screenshot. You won’t be able to to sell it or trade it. The proof is in the blockchain. So I was a believer that crypto-based collectibles could be really big and actually could be the thing that takes crypto mainstream and gets the normals into participating in crypto — and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

TC: You mentioned a lot of reasons that people collect items, but one you didn’t mention is status. Assuming that’s your motivation, how do you show off what you’ve amassed online? 

DP: You’re right that one of the other reasons why we collect is to show it off status, but I would actually argue it’s much easier to show off our collections in the digital world. If I’m a car collector, the only way you’re going to see my cars is to come over to the garage. Only a certain number of people can do that. But online, we can display our digital collections. NBA Top Shop, for example, makes it very easy for you to show off your moments. Everyone has a page and there’s an app that’s coming and you can just show it off to anyone in your app, and you can post it to your social networks. And it’s actually really easy to show off how big or exciting your collection is.

TC: It was back in October that Dapper rolled out these video moments, which you buy almost like a Pokemon set in that you’re buying a pack and know you’ll get something “good” but don’t know what. But while almost half it sales have come in through the last week. Why?

DP: There’s only about maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people playing right now. It’s growing 50% or 100% a day. But the growth has been completely organic. The game is actually still in beta, so we haven’t been doing any marketing other than posting some stuff on Twitter. There hasn’t been attempt to market this and get a lot of players [talking about it] because we’re still working the bugs out, and there are a lot of bugs still to be worked out.

But a couple NBA players have seen this and gotten excited about their own moments [on social media]. And there’s maybe a little bit of machismo going on where, ‘Hey, I want my moment to trade for a higher price.’ But I also think it’s the normals who are playing this. All you need to play is a credit card, and something like 65% of the people playing have never owned or traded in crypto before. So I think the thesis that crypto collectibles could be the thing that brings mainstream users into crypto is playing out before our eyes.

TC: How does Dapper get paid?

DP: We get 5% of secondary sales and 100% minus the cost of the transaction on primary sales. Of course, we have a relationship with the NBA, which collects some of that, too. But that’s the basic economics of how the system works.

TC: Does the NBA have a minimum that it has to be paid every year, and then above and beyond that it receives a cut of the action?

DP: I don’t think the company has gone public with the exact economic terms of their relationships with the NBA and the Players Association. But obviously the NBA is the IP owner, and the teams and the players have economic participation in this, which is good, because they’re the ones that are creating the intellectual property here.

But a lot of the appreciation of these moments — if you get one in a pack and you sell it for a higher price — 95% of that appreciation goes to the owner. So it’s very similar to baseball cards, but now IP owners can participate through the life of the product in the downstream economic activity of their intellectual property, which I think is super appealing whether you’re the NBA or someone like Disney, who’s been in the IP licensing business for decades.

And it’s not just major IP where this NFT space is happening. It’s individual creators, musicians, digital artists who could create a piece of digital art, make only five copies of it, and auction it off. They too can collect a little bit each time their works sell in the future.

TC: Regarding NBA Top Shot specifically, prices range massively in terms of what people are paying for the same limited-edition clip. Why?

DP: There are two reasons. One is that like scarce items, lower numbers are worth more than higher numbers, so if there’s a very particular LeBron moment, and they made 500 [copies] of them, and I own number one, and you own number 399, the marketplace is ascribing a higher value to the lower numbers, which is very typical of limited-edition collector pieces. It’s sort of a funny concept. But it is a very human concept.

The other thing is that over time there has been more and more demand to get into this game, so people are willing to pay higher and higher prices. That’s why there’s been a lot of price appreciation for these moments over time.

TC: You mentioned that some of the esoteric language around crypto scares people, but so does the fact that 20% of the world’s bitcoin is permanently inaccessible to its owners, including because of forgotten passwords. Is that a risk with these digital items, which you are essentially storing in a digital locker or wallet?

DP: It’s a complex topic,  but I will say that Dapper has tried to build this in a way where that won’t happen, where there’s effectively some type of password recovery process for people who are storing their moments in Dapper’s wallet.

You will be able to take your moments away from Dapper’s account and put it into other accounts, where you may be on your own in terms of password recovery.

TC: Why is it a complex topic?

DP: There are people who believe that even though centralized account storage is convenient for users, it’s somehow can be distrustful — that the company could de-platform you or turn your account off. And in the crypto world, there’s almost a religious ferocity about making sure that no one can de-platform you, that the things that you buy — your cryptocurrencies or your NFTs. Long term, Dapper supports that. You’ll be able to take your moments anywhere you want. But today, our customers don’t have to worry about that I-lost-my-password-and-I’ll-never-get-my-moments-again problem.

Daily Crunch: Facebook launches rap app

Facebook unveils another experimental app, Atlassian acquires a data visualization startup and Newsela becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for February 26, 2021.

The big story: Facebook launches rap app

The new BARS app was created by NPE Team (Facebook’s internal R&D group), allowing rappers to select from professionally created beats, and then create and share their own raps and videos. It includes autotune and will even suggest rhymes as you’re writing the lyrics.

This marks NPE Team’s second musical effort — the first was the music video app Collab. (It could also be seen as another attempt by Facebook to launch a TikTok competitor.) BARS is available in the iOS App Store in the U.S., with Facebook gradually admitting users off a waitlist.

The tech giants

Atlassian is acquiring Chartio to bring data visualization to the platform — Atlassian sees Chartio as a way to really take advantage of the data locked inside its products.

Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight — Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn —  If Newsela is doing its job right, its third-party content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers provide fresh, personalized material.

Tim Hortons marks two years in China with Tencent investment — The Canadian coffee and doughnut giant has raised a new round of funding for its Chinese venture.

Sources: Lightspeed is close to hiring a new London-based partner to put down further roots in Europe — According to multiple sources, Paul Murphy is being hired away from Northzone.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion — Considering that most freemium providers see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains.

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings — With buy-now-pay-later options, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data — JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island.

AT&T is turning DirecTV into a standalone company — AT&T says it will own 70% of the new company, while private equity firm TPG will own 30%.

How to ace the 1-hour, and ever-elusive, pitch presentation at TC Early Stage — Norwest’s Lisa Wu has a message for founders: Think like a VC during your pitch presentation.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Astra awarded NASA launch contract for storm observation satellites

Astra, the Alameda-based space launch startup that recently announced its intent to go public via a SPAC merger, has secured a contract to deliver six cube satellites to space on behalf of NASA. Astra stands to be paid $7.95 million by the agency for fulfilment of the contract. This will be a key test of Astra’s responsive rocket capabilities, with a planned three-launch mission profile spanning up to four months, currently targeting sometime between January 8 and July 31 of 2022.

The satellites are for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission, which is a science mission that will collect data about hurricanes and their formation, including temperature, pressure and humidity readings. Like the extremely long, tortured-for-an-acronym name of the mission suggests, the data will be collected using a small constellation of satellites, each roughly the size of a shoebox.\

Astra completed its second of three planned launches designed to ultimately achieve orbit late last year, and exceeded its own expectations by reaching space and nearly achieving orbit. The company said that based on the data it collected from that mission, the final remaining barriers to actually making orbit are all fixable via changes to its software. Based on that, Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp said that it believes it’s now ready to begin flying commercial payloads.

Kemp was formerly CTO of NASA, and has co-founded a number of technology companies over the years as well. This latest NASA mission isn’t its first contracted launch – far from it, in fact, since the company has said it currently has more than 50 total missions on its slate from both private and government customers, with a total value of over $150 million in revenue.

Salesforce delivers, Wall Street doubts as stock falls 6.3% post-earnings

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.

2/6/21 Salesforce stock report with stock down 6.31%

Image Credits: Google

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 investor’s 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 officers 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.