As Amex scoops up Resy, a look at its history of acquisitions

American Express (also commonly known as AmEx), a popular credit and banking company, recently announced that it purchased a company called Resy. Resy helps people get seats at restaurants, or as AmEx describes it, provides “a digital restaurant reservation booking and management platform.”

The deal might not be as big a surprise as it feels, given that the two have worked together since at least the start of 2018.

As a private company, five-year-old Resy raised a total of $45 million in its lifetime, according to its Crunchbase profile. Its investors include Lerer HippeauAirbnb and Slow Ventures. Resy was co-founded by Ben Leventhal, co-founder of Eater, which produces food news and dining guides. The startup is primarily focused on the United States, but it also has a presence in the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada and Australia.

In a press release, AmEx said the goal of the acquisition was to enhance its ability to help cardmembers have access to “new, notable and hard to get into restaurants across the globe, as well as help restaurants’ businesses grow and thrive.” It also noted that it’s the latest buy in a string of recent purchases “in the dining, travel and lifestyle space.”

However, this being Crunchbase News, let’s see what else we can find out about what AmEx is up to.

Swipe for all the startups

AmEx has been on a buying spree as of late. In March, we reported on its purchase of LoungeBuddy, a former partner that helped travelers with reviews of various airport lounge areas. Also this year, AmEx picked up Pocket Concierge, a firm that we wrote “helps book in-demand restaurants and is similar to OpenTable.”

The following chart details American Express’s known acquisitions over the past decade, as reported by Crunchbase:

The chart tell us two things:

  1. AmEx is not a company with a history of buying lots of companies. For a firm of its value ($98.3 billion), buying a few companies a year is more than manageable. And, often, American Express hasn’t even done that. Indeed, in five of the last 11 years, AmEx bought zero known companies.
  2. AmEx has picked up three companies according to Crunchbase data this year. That’s a record, and it’s only May.

So, there could be change in the wind over at the credit card giant. (And if so, I suspect there are a fair few companies that brush up against AmEx that would love to join forces.)

A different checkbook

AmEx also has a venture arm, creatively named American Express Ventures. That means it interfaces with young tech shops both while they are independent and when they are ready to be picked up.

American Express Ventures has made 54 known investments, according to Crunchbase, including 13 led rounds. Unsurprisingly, the firm’s most popular startup categories to invest in are fintech, financial services and e-commerce. AmEx puts money to work where it also plays.

And that’s all for now, but we have our eyes out. If American Express buys something else, we’ll let you know — especially if you are a fintech founder.

Equity Shot: Pinterest zooms into the public markets (and yet another tech company files for an IPO)

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is a relaxed, Friday, Equity Shot. That means Kate and Alex were on deck to chew through the latest from the IPO front. We’ll keep doing extra episodes as long as we have to, though we’re slightly sorry if we’re becoming a bit much.

That’s a joke — we’re not sorry at all.

So, three things this week. First, Fastly filed an S-1 (Alex’s notes here); second, Zoom completed its highly anticipated IPO (Kate’s post here, Alex has notes too); and third, Pinterest went public too (more from TechCrunch here). Ultimately, Pinterest’s stock offering valued the company at $12.6 billion (higher than its latest private valuation), but we’ve got some notes on the “undercorn” phenomenon anyway (here and here).

Fastly is going public after raising more than $200 million at a valuation greater than $900 million. Founded in 2011, the content-delivery company surpassed the $100 million revenue mark in 2017, growing a little under 40 percent in 2018. It’s an unprofitable shop, but it has a clear path to profitability. And given how Zoom’s IPO went, it’s probably drafting a bit off of market momentum.

As mentioned, Zoom had a wildly successful first day of trading. The company ended up pricing its shares above range at $36 apiece, only to debut on the Nasdaq at $65 apiece. Yes, that’s an 81 percent pop, and yes, we were a bit floored.

Finally, Pinterest’s debut was solid, leading to a more than 25 percent gain over its above-range IPO price. What’s not to like about that? It’s hard to find fault with the offering. Pinterest got past the negative press and questions about private market valuations, went public, raised a truckload of money and now just has to execute. We’ll be watching.

If you’re looking for more Uber IPO content, don’t worry, there’s plenty more of that to come. See ya next week.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Unicorns, undercorns and horses: A guide to the nonsense

It’s been more than a half-decade since Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures kicked off the unicorn craze. Noting in a well-read post for TechCrunch that an interesting cohort of private companies worth a billion dollars or more was worth examining, the post brought the “unicorn” into its current usage inside of tech.

And then tech itself did the term a favor, building and financing hundreds more. Now unicorns swarm like fleas, and simply snagging a $1 billion valuation these days is something that has been done in mere months and is a well-known vanity tactic used to juice hiring.

Anyway.

This has now gone on so long that many of us in the tech-focused journalism space are sick of saying the word. Kate Clark, Equity co-host and cool person, literally has “I am so sick of the buzz word [sic] ‘unicorn’ ” on her Twitter page. I agree with the sentiment.

But the phrase unicorn is back in the mix, so let’s examine the hubbub.

Booms and busts

The term unicorn quickly became overused as startups stayed private longer by pushing IPOs off as long as they could, and the capital world decided it was fine. Bored capital was pooling in venture coffers where it was itching to be disbursed by the wealthy into the holsters of the privileged. And thus the companies that in other cycles might have gone public simply didn’t, and the ranks of unicorns multiplied.

The joke’s on us, however, as we have used the term on the order of six billion times.

Soon the overused “unicorn” moniker was also too small. Decacorns took their own spot in the pantheon of silly names. A decacorn, in case you’ve led a more exciting life than me and are thus otherwise unfamiliar, is a private tech company that has racked up a $10 billion valuation. (A centacorn, I suppose, would be worth $100 billion?)

What a unicorn is has stretched and bent over time. But regardless of how the phrase has come to be defined in recent quarters, most people are talking about tech shops when they use it. And that’s pretty reasonable.

But what tech companies do very well is go up, and go down. And that’s when we wind up on the other side (tail-end?) of the unicorn debate: All are agreed that the phrase unicorn is useful. Not all, however, agree on what we call a unicorn that has fallen.

Oops

We have two questions: What do you call a unicorn that falls under the $1 billion valuation mark. And, relatedly, what do you call a unicorn that eventually goes public or otherwise exits at a discount to its final private market valuation?

Regarding the leading question, there are two definitions that I am aware of.

First, as has come back into the discussion this week, there’s the concept of an “undercorn.” As Business Insider noted through a blog citationAxios’ Dan Primack may have coined the term. Here, per Ian Sigalow’s post, which quotes the original Dan, is what Primack said:

When a venture-backed company breaks through the $1BN valuation mark, we call it a Unicorn. When the same company falls back below the $1BN threshold, it becomes an Undercorn.

That’s simple enough. However, Erin Griffith of The New York Times used the phrase recently in a slightly different manner. Here’s her riff:

Unicorns that sell or go public below their last private valuation are known as undercorns.

That’s different, as it’s defining undercorns as exited unicorns that lose altitude; that’s different than unicorns losing their unicornyness altogether. However, as we’re working on defining made-up words to describe an economic anomaly caused by government-determined free money, we can relax a little and realize that both uses of the word undercorn are equally differentiated from zero.

Now I get to talk about myself. I had my own thoughts on what a unicorn that had lost the requisite billion-dollar valuation should be called back in 2016. Regarding what a unicorn that had fallen under the needed worth:

If a unicorn is a horse with a spike, when you take the spike off you just have a horse.

I thought it was pretty smart. No one else agreed, and thus I have to admit that Primack and Griffith have made quite a lot more noise with the undercorn phrase, even if they don’t quite agree on what it means. (Feel free to become a partisan of either side, as we are long overdue for something useless and entertaining on the internet.)

Sadly, there are even more unicorn-related terms and phrases in and amidst the tech conversation that we shouldn’t miss.

Exotica and other notes

Returning to Axios, it has a new phrase out this year that’s worth keeping in our hat. From its February coverage of the venture landscape, I give you the phrase “minotaur:”

The Big Picture: Meet the minotaurs — our term for the companies that would be worth more than $1 billion even if the only thing they did was to take the cash that they have raised and put it in a checking account.

I wanted to hate this, but wound up deciding there are a host of worse words that could have been selected. And as it wasn’t a unicorn-variant, how could I complain?

The only other thing I can recall that fits our task today is something that Jason and I wrote four years ago in TechCrunch. As a follow-up to our “How To Speak Startup” post, we wrote the brilliantly titled “How To Speak Startup, Part Deux,” which contained the following definition:

Unicorn — As if metaphors in Silicon Valley couldn’t get more childish.

The joke’s on us, however, as we have used the term on the order of six billion times since then. And that’s that, I think. Now you know!

Ride-hailing, bike and scooter companies probably raised less money than you thought

After years of fierce competition as private companies, Uber and Lyft are going public on U.S. markets. Scooter service providers, the transportation trend du jour, raised hundreds of millions of dollars to scatter scooters on city sidewalks (to the chagrin of residents and regulators alike) throughout 2017 and 2018. On the other side of the Pacific, Grab and Go-Jek are raising gobs of cash as they continue to scale upward and outward.

Of all the seed, early and late-stage venture funding raised over the past couple of years, how much of the total went to companies in the ride-hailing, food delivery and last-mile transportation categories (which encompasses bikes and scooters)? Probably not as much as you’d think.

Taken together, companies in these sectors raised less than 10 percent of the total venture dollar volume reported for each of the past five full calendar years.

We’ve charted it out based on yearly totals. Take a peek:

To be sure, we’re still talking about a lot of money here. Companies in these three categories raised more than $22 billion in venture funding rounds (not including private equity) in 2017 and more than $18 billion in 2018.

Ventures in the transportation space loom large in the media, and how could they not? It’s a forbiddingly capital-intensive market to play in, requiring companies to raise massive sums, which make for good headlines.

In its early years, competition between on-demand, point-to-point transportation marketplace companies rewarded brashness and speed with early scale and the long-term structural advantages conferred to first the firms which grew the fastest.

But those advantages may not have been as stiff as first expected. Lyft beat Uber to the public markets, raised its valuation during its IPO roadshow, priced at the top of its extended range and then popped 21 percent when it started trading.

That success means that the red chunks of our above chart weren’t all fool’s bets. Instead, a good chunk of the equity represented is now liquid. Of course, there’s a lot more work to do for literally every other ride-hailing, ridesharing, scooter-renting and other wheels-providing unicorns in the world: They still have to go public.

It’s not so obvious that this VC firm is focused on impact

Obvious Ventures was founded in 2014 by Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, along with Vishal Vasishth and James Joaquin. Its mission? To invest in startups that make a positive impact on the world.

It’s a bold idea, and in its marketing material, San Francisco-based Obvious specifically states that it “invests only in companies where every dollar of revenue is also delivering some environmental or social impact.”

Despite that promotional language, the firm doesn’t want you to call it an impact investor. So to settle the confusion, we asked the firm directly to find out if we were getting caught up in semantics, or if this seemingly intentional differentiation stems from the fact that traditional impact investors have earned a reputation of being laissez-faire about returns.

We suspected the latter, and we were right — for the most part.

Founding the obvious

When the firm came together five years ago, the partners’ intention was “to invest in entrepreneurs we felt were purpose-driven and going after some of the world’s biggest challenges, or pieces of them at least,” said Andrew Beebe, managing director at Obvious. At the same time, the firm was looking for “top venture performance.” It is by this reasoning the venture firm, also a B-corp, prefers to describe its investment strategy as “World Positive.” It’s a nuance that’s easy to miss, even for founders looking for cash.

“When the fund first started, we did get a lot of people coming to us thinking of us as a social impact fund,” Beebe told Crunchbase News. “We would get pitches for yoga mat cleaners, or people selling a lot of used clothing and putting it into a business model that just reeked of first-world hubris,” he said. “But that’s not the kind of stuff we wanted to invest in.”

“We believe if you combine purpose-driven terrific entrepreneurs solving the world’s biggest problems, you should outperform your peers,” he told Crunchbase News. “We think those companies can adjust, grow and scale better as world-changers. Put simply, we believe purpose fuels profit.”

Obvious has closed on two funds since its inception: raising a deliberate $123,456,789 million in 2015 and $191,919,191 million in 2017. It currently has more than 50 companies in its portfolio, including Plant Prefab, a prefabricated home factory; Good Eggs, an online grocer and meal kit delivery service; and Diamond Foundry, which says it “cultures diamonds in California with a zero carbon footprint.”

(Note that our chart above shows fewer than 50 companies because, according to Obvious, some of its portfolio companies “might be in stealth mode” or not disclosing their funding for another reason.)

Obvious claims it values diversity, noting that 20 percent of its current portfolio companies have female founders, according to Beebe.

“In our view, that represents where the world is going, as we think it’s becoming more diverse,” he said.

However, the firm doesn’t “make” its portfolio companies measure their positive impact in the world, although many do so anyway “as part of who they are.” For example, Beyond Meat on its website (in a section titled “our impact” no less) touts that its burgers use “99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, 90 percent fewer GHGE (greenhouse gas emissions), and 46 percent less energy.”

“We didn’t tell them they had to measure those things or hit those milestones, but that’s what they were going after and wanted to prove to the world,” Beebe said.

For his part, Diamond Foundry CEO R. Martin Roscheisen said his company’s goal is to create real diamonds above ground in its San Francisco foundry using a proprietary solar technology.

“We use renewable energy and are the world’s first and only diamond producer certified to be carbon neutral,” he said, adding the company is now producing more than 100,000 carats per year with the goal of expanding to 1 million carats per year.

Roscheisen said Obvious Ventures invested in his company “when they barely existed,” so for his company, it was more about the people.

“James Joaquin [an Obvious co-founder] is simply irresistible, and they’ve now built a whole team that’s great,” he said.

I asked him to confirm if his company’s mission matched Obvious’ stated desire to only invest in companies “where every dollar of revenue was also delivering some environmental or social impact.”

His answer?

“Yes, this is true for us,” he said. “We create diamonds without social and environmental harm…. But we’re also growing as fast as the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley and have even been profitable.”

Meanwhile, I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a traditional impact investor on whether he considers Obvious to be an impact venture firm.

Dan Graham, co-founder of Austin-based Notley Ventures, has co-invested alongside Obvious Ventures. He believes there are two pillars of impact investors: those that want to improve the world through business but are looking for “great returns” at the same time, and those that are OK with lower returns and are almost viewed more as philanthropy.

Obvious Ventures, in his view, falls into the first category.

“They’re looking for those home runs that will return very nicely for their investors but are also having a positive impact,” he told Crunchbase News. Obvious might be hesitant to be lumped into the impact category because it doesn’t want to scare away capital that is looking for great returns, or portray itself as being willing to take a below market return, Graham said.

“But if you look at their mission and all the companies in their portfolio, I’d definitely describe them as impact,” he added.

So does it really matter how Obvious Ventures (or any other company) identifies itself? Marketing gurus certainly have opinions on that, but we aren’t here to make that call. What we do know for certain, because we report on it day in and day out, is that whether a company survives or dies ultimately comes down to sound business metrics, and that is something we can measure.

To get big faster, younger unicorns start buying startups sooner

In the name of getting big quick, it seems like some of the most valuable private tech companies are turning to mergers and acquisitions (M&A) as a way to accelerate business growth. So-called “unicorns”—privately-held technology companies which achieve billion-dollar valuations sometime before (or as a direct result of) going public or exiting via M&A—are chomping at the bit to make their first acquisitions, suggesting a mounting pressure on companies to grow even quicker.

Analysis of Crunchbase data indicates that, on average, recently founded unicorn companies are more likely to make their first M&A transactions sooner after founding than their older counterparts. In other words, younger unicorns buy other companies earlier. Here’s the data.

The narrowing gap between founding and first M&A

Using M&A data for companies in Crunchbase’s unicorn list, we found out when unicorn companies made their first M&A transactions on average. (We detail a bit more of the methodology in a note at the end.) Companies founded in more recent years were quickest to hit the M&A trail.

Eleven unicorn companies founded in 2007 took an average of roughly 8.33 years before making their first acquisitions. At time of writing, 29 unicorns founded in 2012 have made their first startup purchases, averaging just 4.1 years before doing so.

Note that there’s a bit of a sampling bias here. To an extent, it’s expected that unicorn companies founded in more recent years will have a lower average age of first acquisition, because there are many unicorn companies which haven’t yet made their first M&A deals.

The bulk of all M&A transactions by unicorns (not just the first ones) occur within the first seven years after founding.

We should take recent years’ dramatic reduction in average time until first acquisition with a heftier grain of salt (again, there are plenty of unicorns which haven’t yet gone shopping for startups). Even with that caveat made, averages have steadily trended lower between 2007 and 2012, after remaining steady (across an admittedly small sample set) since the start of the unicorn era.

This suggests that younger unicorns are increasingly using M&A transactions as a way to accelerate their path to massive market power.

It’s a big move for a company to buy another one. There’s all the financial particulars to negotiate, the legal and regulatory hurdles to clear, and the inevitable friction of integrating teams and technology from one entity with another. And that’s when the process is amicable and goes smoothly. The amount of time and resources a company commits to carrying out an M&A strategy is nontrivial, so it’s understandable why a company would put this process off to a later date or eschew it entirely. That high-growth tech companies are pursuing such a time and energy-intense strategy earlier on in the venture life-cycle points to the benefits M&A can bring to startups seeking to scale speedily.

Methodology notes

We found this by analyzing the set of acquisitions made by companies in Crunchbase’s list of unicorns, which we used as a proxy for “high-performing private technology companies” as a collective whole. We found the time elapsed between unicorns’ listed founding dates (which, note, have varying levels of precision) and the date of their first-ever acquisitions, regardless of whether the acquirer had achieved unicorn status. We then plotted the resulting data in a couple of ways.

More information about Crunchbase News’s methodology can be found on a dedicated page on this site.

Uber’s IPO targets April, Stash stacks cash, and YC shakes it up

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a lot of fun. Connie Lozios took the captain’s chair in San Francisco while I manned the sails, and we had Female Founders Fund’s founder Anu Duggal in the studio to round out our crew.

It was a week of conclusions. Our prior notes on YC and Uber and a few other things came home to roost. But, you’re busy so let’s sink our teeth into the good stuff:

Uber’s IPO lands in April: Right before we hit record, news broke that Uber’s IPO will land in April. This isn’t an unexpected result, but it is one that is long-expected. With Lyft’s S-1 live, and in the wild, it’s time for Uber to, ahem, shift and catch up? Regardless, the company’s possible $1 billion raise to fund its research arm is another indicator that Uber is serious about going public. You know, that, and the fact that it’s filed privately.

Q1 IPO pace was slack: Aside from Lyft’s public S-1, there’s been an annoying dearth of public progress on the IPO front from tech’s biggest players. Sure, some companies filed to go public privately, but that’s more annoying than helpful. My point here was undercut by the Uber news, but if Lyft doesn’t debut in March then it’s going to be a complete first-quarter miss.

Stash raises $65 million: Another of the neo-banks raised capital this month, with Stash stacking a fresh $65 million dollars. The firm was coy about the round’s participants (odd), and silent on its new valuation (more normal, but still annoying). What matters is that Stash now has more dosh on hand to compete with Chime and Acorns, each of which recently raised big new rounds this year.

Changes at YC: As expected, and presaged on this very show, Sam Altman is graduating himself to the chairman’s seat at Y Combinator. That and the firm is finding office space in San Francisco. That’s more evidence that the center of gravity has truly shifted here in Northen California. Sand Hill Road is more Route 66 than it is a hyperloop.

And with that failed attempt at a joke, I give up. We’re back in seven days!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

With these numbers, it’s no surprise SoftBank is investing in Latin America

After SoftBank announced its plans to launch a $5 billion innovation fund in Latin America, we reached out to the good folks at the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA) for some context, and what they told me only validates the reasoning behind SoftBank’s interest in the region. (In 2017, we reported on the growing interest in Latin America.)

Let’s start with some numbers. Venture funding in Latin American startups is up — way up — from previous years. Specifically, LAVCA’s data shows that VC funding more than doubled in 2017 to $1.14 billion compared to $500 million in 2016. While 2018 numbers haven’t been finalized, LAVCA is projecting another record year with venture investments topping $1.5 billion.

If you combine private equity and venture investing, the numbers are even more impressive. LAVCA estimates that PE and VC fundraising together in Latin America in 2017 totaled $4.3 billion, up from $2.3 billion in 2016.1

Julie Ruvolo, director of venture capital for LAVCA, said all this “fits squarely in this larger momentum that’s been building over the last year or two.”

“We’ve been seeing the continued, and increased, entry of significant global players in the market,” she told Crunchbase News. “Plus, we’ve been seeing an uptick in $100 million-plus rounds, which was a relatively rare thing in Latin America.”

Also unsurprising is the breakdown of where the majority of venture dollars have gone in Latin America. Brazil led the region across all stages of VC investment, capturing 73 percent of VC investment dollars in 2017 and the first half of 2018 (201 startup investments totaling $1.4 billion). Mexico was the second most active market by number of deals (82 startup investments totaling $154 million), but Colombia saw more money invested ($188 million over 23 deals).

Here’s a quick rundown of just some of the bigger deals that took place during that same time frame:

It’s worth noting that fintech is the top sector of VC investment by dollars and number of deals in Latin America. The region also hosts a number of unicorns, including Brazilian ride-hailing startup 99; Colombian last-mile delivery service Rappi; Brazilian learning systems provider Arco Educação; and Brazilian fintech startup Stone Pagamentos.

With all this innovation and investing going on in Latin America, there is clearly large potential. And SoftBank is now poised to capitalize on that.

  1. The fundraising and investment data LAVCA collects is specific to fund managers that have raised capital from third-party institutional investors/limited partners and doesn’t account for other types of private capital investors, like a SoftBank fund or sovereign wealth fund, corporate, etc.

Small VC funds continue to raise, despite pressure from above

Recently, we bore out with data what has been felt for several years in most U.S. tech scenes: a rising venture market raises funds of all sizes. But it’s a trend that most favors entrenched firms, which raise ever-larger funds to accommodate a shift in the startup life cycle. Private companies are dawdling at the exit door, postponing graduation to public markets because private-market money is cheap and plentiful, for now.

In a time when “blitzscaling” is the business strategy du jour, some high-growth companies raise supergiant nine and 10-figure VC rounds to help them build moats around walled-garden markets they’re trying to build up from both sides, or they’ll die trying.

This is all to point out that, at the high end of the assets-under-management (AUM) spectrum, fund size has ballooned. This nets the biggest size class of VC funds a supermajority of all the capital general partners (GPs) call down from limited partners (LPs). This trend has accelerated in more recent fund vintages.

Small-dollar funds may get less of the overall fundraising pie, but their ranks continue to grow as more fund managers enter the industry. In most cases, sub-$100 million funds aren’t competing for the same institutional capital or sovereign wealth that typically invests in much bigger funds.

All this said, the upswing in smaller-sum funds continues. U.S.-based general partners raised more sub-$100 million venture funds in 2018 than in any year prior. This is true for two separate size classes: “Micro” and “Nano,” which exhibit similar growth patterns over time.

Featherweight funds soar on market thermals

Let’s tackle the smallest funds first. “Nano VC” is a relatively new entrant into the venture lexicon, and its definition is somewhat in flux. Samir Kaji, a managing director at First Republic Bank who has tracked the phenomenon of small venture funds for years, coined the term in early 2017 to describe new venture funds raising $15 million or less. Recently, we’ve heard the term “Nano VC” used to reference funds under $25 million, a slightly more expansive definition (perhaps accounting for growing seed and early-stage deal size).

Below, we plot the count of new U.S. Nano VC funds raising $25 million or less, by year announced (via press release or regulatory filing), over time. It is based on a snapshot of Crunchbase’s data taken at the time of writing.

Funds at these sizes are mostly focused on pre-seed, seed and Series A deals. Many are led by first-time and other “emerging” fund managers early on in their investing careers, according to follow-up research by Kaji.

The next size class up, Micro VC, includes venture funds in the $25 million to $100 million range. (Quick terminology note: Sometimes, people refer to all funds under $100 million as Micro, without designating Nano funds as a separate size class.) Micro VC funds are also generally focused on investing in seed and early-stage companies, and are also commonly run by new and emerging managers.

Creation of Micro VC funds also picked up over time, as well.

Although it’s a tidy little coincidence that our analysis shows roughly the same number of Micro and Nano VC funds raised in 2018, it’s important to remember that we’re sometimes talking about an order-of-magnitude difference in AUM between the two size classes. Nano and Micro VC funds accounted for roughly 24 and 25 percent, respectively, of the count of new venture firms announced or disclosed (via SEC filing) in 2018. However, Micro VC funds ($25 million-$100 million) raised six percent of the total capital raised by venture firms, while Nano VC funds (<$25 million) accounted for roughly one percent of total LP-GP dollar volume in 2018.

Good reason for caution

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about declines in the reported number of seed-stage deals, a primary destination for capital raised by smaller funds. However, it’s likely that these declines aren’t as precipitous as the numbers may suggest. There are known delays in seed and early-stage deal reporting, as documented by Crunchbase News (in our quarterly reporting and methodology guide) and others. And, at least anecdotally, it seems like startups are staying in “stealth mode” longer, which only serves to exacerbate the reporting lag.

All this being said, projections (which try to compensate for delays using historical patterns of deal disclosures) from our Q4 2018 report on U.S. and Canadian venture investing found that seed-stage deal volume has declined for the past couple of quarters, while total dollar volume raised by seed-stage companies rose slightly in the final quarter of last year. Projected early-stage deal volume leveled off in the past several quarters, while projected dollar volume grew more than 11 percent quarter over quarter.

In other words, both seed and early-stage deals are getting bigger, on average, at the same time deal volume growth is stagnating in the U.S. and Canada. If this trend continues, funds on the smaller end of the AUM spectrum may face deal-flow pipeline problems in the future, or get priced out of bidding wars for a diminishing supply of equity in fledgling technology ventures with high growth potential.

Two Austin-based VC firms are each raising $100M funds

Texas startups will soon have two new sources for capital.

Crunchbase News has learned that two Austin-based venture capital firms, ATX Seed Ventures and Quake Capital, are in the process of each raising $100 million funds.

The news comes off a period in which the Austin tech scene saw a number of wins. Tech giants Apple and Google recently committed to expanding their presence in the Texas capital in a big way. And venture investing in the city is picking up at an impressive pace. In January alone, Austin startups raised nearly as much as was raised in all of the 2018 fourth quarter.

While both firms have different investment strategies, they share some similarities: They’re both trying to fill what they perceive as an early-stage gap in the Austin market, and they both are naturally bullish on the region.

First let’s discuss what ATX Seed Ventures has planned.

The firm only just recently closed its second $32 million fund and is already busy raising money for its third fund, which has a target of $100 million. It’s expecting a first close as soon as May, and a final close later this year.

While that might seem like a big jump, the five-year-old firm’s partners — managing director Chris Shonk, COO Danielle Allen and Brad Bentz — explained to me that the firm actually has more than $60 million under management, so the larger fund size may seem more dramatic than it actually is.

“We put a significant amount of capital to work outside of our primary fund with co-investments…” Shonk said. “But we’re excited to have investors not just doubling down, but tripling down. It’s a strong sign of investor confidence.”

ATX Seed Ventures launched its first fund at SXSW 2014, in which it deployed $17.25 million worth of capital. The firm currently has 26 portfolio companies and has already seen four exits: Incent Games (also known as FantasySalesTeam) was acquired by MicrosoftRideScout was acquired by moovel Group, a subsidiary of Daimler; Set.fm was acquired by VNUE Inc. and Unbill was acquired by Q2ebanking.

Per its name, ATX Seed Ventures started by primarily investing in Austin-based companies. It has since branched out to investing in other Texas cities and is now considering “surrounding” markets.

Despite its name, the firm doesn’t just invest in the seed stage, although that’s when it most prefers to get in.

“What we really came into the market trying to do was institutionalize seed by leading rounds, taking a board seat and structuring terms,” Shonk told Crunchbase News. “We like being a company’s first institutional round and bringing in what we think of as Series A and B rigor and discipline at the seed valuation stage.”

One of the things the firm likes most about being the first institutional check is that it can “control valuation a bit.”

“Valuations have kind of gone nuts, especially in later rounds,” Shonk said. “So this way, we’re not inheriting someone’s prior complexities.”

Bentz agrees.

“In terms of valuations, they’re not as out of control here in Texas as they are in some markets,” he said. “So, on a risk-adjusted basis you can still make some really good deals here.”

As for sectors, ATX is particularly focused on B2B — which Austin is known for — with a SaaS business model. But it’s also interested in supply chain/manufacturing, real estate tech and energy-related businesses.

“We try to run the races we think we can win,” Bentz said. “So we focus on our own areas of expertise as well as that of our LPs so that we can add strategic value, and not just put money into deals.”

Another quake

Meanwhile, Quake Capital — which moved its headquarters from New York to Austin last July — is also in the process of raising a $100 million fund.

Founded in January 2016, Quake started investing in early 2017 out of a $4.65 million fund. It invested in 31 companies out of that fund. Jim Brisimitzis, managing partner of Quake’s Seattle office, noted that Quake’s second fund was capped at $15 million “by request” of its LPs. That fund closed in December. Overall, the firm currently has more than 110 companies in its portfolio.

As part of what it describes as its increased commitment to the region, the firm has hired a new managing director, Jason Fernandez, to run its Austin office. As part of his new role, Fernandez will oversee Quake’s ATX accelerator program as well as the firm’s investor and advisor network. Most recently, he worked as an operations and finance partner at BASE Equity Partners.

“We believe Quake is coming into the Austin market at the right time,” Fernandez said. “We see a real opportunity to participate in this early-stage/seed category as most of the existing VCs seem to be moving up the food chain a bit and investing at later stages.”

Brisimitzis reiterated Quake’s confidence in the Austin market.

“We see a tremendous amount of growth in this ecosystem and want to be a part of it,” he told Crunchbase News.

As Austin’s startup ecosystem continues to grow, there’s no doubt two new nine-figure funds will be welcomed with open arms.