The SEC is looking to make it easier for any company to test the IPO waters

Under the leadership of its newest chairman, Jay Clayton, the SEC has for the last two years made it clear that it wants more companies to go public already.

A new proposal, revealed today, may get it closer to that objective. Specifically, the agency has proposed giving any company that’s exploring a potential IPO a chance to explore its plans privately with potential investors — both institutional and accredited — before making any public pronouncements.

It would essentially widen the net to allow every company to “test the waters” before deciding whether or not to move forward with an offering, compared with the companies that are able to test the waters today, which are “emerging growth companies.”

Per the SEC’s definition, an emerging growth company is an issuer with total annual gross revenue of less than $1 billion during its most recently completed fiscal year.

The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposal, after which the SEC will decide whether or not to move forward.

You can pretty much expect that it will. The move follows a series of steps the SEC has taken to shift over to the public market some of the liquidity sloshing around the private market. In July 2017, it made it possible for any company to confidentially submit registration documents related to shares being sold in an IPO, a benefit that only smaller companies had enjoyed previously.

Acknowledging that companies may still choose to stay private longer, Clayton separately said last August that the commission wants to give more small investors access to more privately held companies for their retirement or other needs. He said that changes toward that end could happen “pretty quickly,” though the SEC hasn’t formally revealed any related proposals yet.

SoftBank and Mubadala grow closer

The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank and Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi state investment company, have a closely intertwined relationship, and it’s one that the two are further cementing. According to the Financial Times, SoftBank has just committed half the capital for a new $400 million fund from Mubadala that aims to back European startups.

Industry observers might remember that Mubadala committed $15 billion to SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund as it was first being put together in 2017. Soon after, Mubadala opened a San Francisco office, as well as structured a $400 million fund designed to invest in early-stage startups to which SoftBank committed some capital.

The pact was understandable, including because Mubadala’s early-stage fund could theoretically provide SoftBank with a better idea of what’s happening at companies that are earlier in their trajectories than SoftBank typically sees. The move was also meant to better enable Mubadala to oversee the money it committed to SoftBank.

The newer fund appears to be raising questions, however. At least, the FT notes that the timing is “unusual,” given that SoftBank is currently saddled with $154 billion in gross debt. The new fund also “raises the prospect that Mubadala’s influence with the Vision Fund will only grow by allowing it to shape SoftBank’s tech investments,” as suggest by the FT’s sources.

Yet SoftBank may not have much choice but to work increasingly closely with Abu Dhabi. As the company’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, said earlier this month, the Vision Fund has spent about $50 billion of its approximately $99 billion in capital. Given the rate at which it has been investing (it just plugged nearly $1 billion into a company last week), its remaining funds might not last through 2020.

Meanwhile, it isn’t clear whether SoftBank enjoys the solid relationship that it once did with the Vision Fund’s biggest anchor investor, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which provided SoftBank with a $45 billion commitment for its current fund and that SoftBank was largely counting on to be its biggest backer in a second Vision Fund.

On October 3rd of last year, Bloomberg journalists talked with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS), and he said he planned to invest a further $45 billion in SoftBank. Yet what few knew then was that five days earlier, journalist and Saudi regime critic Jamal Khashoggi had vanished after going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As questions, and concern, began to spread over MBS’s involvement in the disappearance, many business executives canceled plans to visit Riyadh, where Saudi Arabia hosted an investment conference in the middle of October. Son was among them, even as he tried hedging his bets by visiting privately with MBS in Riyadh the night before the event began.

Whether that move angered MBS remains to be seen. It also isn’t clear whether the CIA’s eventual findings that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s murder, or the unflattering attention paid to Saudi Arabia because of that murder, is impacting where SoftBank is able to invest its capital.

Son, for his part, declined to say earlier this month whether he would consider taking more money from Saudi sources — which is perhaps telling in itself.

In the meantime, it’s barreling ahead with Mubadala, which will reportedly use its new fund to write to European startups checks of between $5 million and $30 million.

As with Mubadala’s San Francisco-based team, the idea appears to be to act as a funnel for SoftBank’s Vision Fund, steering it deals that Mubadala’s team sees as the most promising in its portfolio.

Mubadala’s European venture fund will be run out of a new office in London, which is expected to open this spring. The Vision Fund is currently also headquartered in London, with another office in San Francisco and, soon, offices expected in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Steve Jurvetson tells all: about his new $200 million fund, his new partner, his new shopping list, and more

Steve Jurvetson is staging a comeback, disclosing today that his new San Francisco-based, early-stage venture firm Future Ventures, has raised $200 million for its debut fund.

“It’s good to be back in the saddle again,” says Jurvetson, whose career was somewhat famously derailed in the fall of 2017 when a former girlfriend wrote a Facebook post, accusing DFJ — the firm Jurvetson cofounded in 1985 — of “predatory behavior.” DFJ said publicly the next day that it was already investigating “indirect and secondhand allegations” about Jurvetson, and within weeks, the firm and Jurvetson seemingly had enough of each other, mutually deciding that it was time to part ways. (Jurvetson, who was recently wed for the second time, has since said he poorly handled his love interests, some of which he acknowledges were extramarital.)

It was surely an embarrassing chapter for Jurvetson, who’d enjoyed a pristine reputation, but notably, he didn’t lose the support of some of his former colleagues. At the time, two founders who worked previously at DJF spoke up his behalf, crediting both Jurvetson and DFJ with “cultivating an environment where women advance professionally.” And Jurvetson has formed Future Ventures with another former apprentice who he mentored for a year at DFJ: Maryanna Saenko, who Jurvetson says is a “full partner” in the endeavor and who he characterizes as “the most talented investor I’ve ever worked with.”

Certainly, they have much in common in the way of interests. Jurvetson has famously funded companies that seemed dangerously futuristic and capital intensive at the time, including Space X and Tesla. Saenko, who has two degrees from Carnegie Mellon in materials science and engineering, has long been fascinated with deep learning, space exploration, and robotics. She even helped start up Airbus Ventures before joining DFJ, where she worked with Jurvetson on deals like the “clean meat” company Memphis Meats and Orchid, a San Francisco-based startup that’s developing a a surveillance-free layer on top of the internet.

They must work well together. Soon after Jurvetson left the firm, Saenko also split, spending six months at Khosla Ventures before rejoining him in November, when they began putting together a pitch deck in earnest for Future Ventures . Meetings with prospective investors soon followed.

Asked about Future Ventures’s investors, Jurvetson says they are “people who know what I’m doing and want to invest in that — tech CEOs, other VCs, hedge fund [investors] —  people who’ve known me for decades. I figured that was the easiest place to start.” Not that anyone is backing Jurvetson out of blind loyalty, one surmises. Future Ventures is charging 2.5 percent in management fees and 25 percent of any profits earned, above the standard “2 and 20” that many fund managers charge and more in line with the what the best-performing funds are able to secure from their investors.

He has the track record for it. Future Ventures hasn’t written its first check just yet, but “the vast majority of term sheets I’ve issued [over my career] have been the only term sheet offered to the company,” claims Jurvetson. Pointing this editor to the companies he has funded over time, he adds that: “In almost every case, I was the first VC to offer a term sheet and take a board seat, and there was no one competing with me.”

Among his bets that look prescient in hindsight are SpaceX and Tesla, on whose boards Jurvetson still sits. But he also holds a seat on the board of the quantum computing company D-Wave and was an early investor in Planet, the satellite company.

Whether he still has the magic touch is something he’ll have to prove at Future Ventures, but the firm’s investors are giving it more time than is standard to invest the fund: 15 years instead of 10. Future Ventures will also be able to pull the trigger faster on deals than some firms because of its size, which is small by design, says Jurvetson. Though he and Saenko may eventually bring aboard a “partner-track associate,” for now, two is the right number partners and “never more than five.”

Team size is “so important,” says Jurvetson. “My favorite time was when i had a three partners” at the outset of DFJ, which he formed with investors Tim Draper and John Fisher. “You can have meetings whenever you want. You can iterate and deliberate. You want your team to be cognitively diverse but also small. Once you have more than seven people, it’s no longer a team.”

As for what Future will back, Jurvetson says the future of food production remains one great area of interest, as is the proliferation of neural networks at “the edge — of your phone, your car, your security camera.” The latter, he notes, can be a “pain in the ass today, [issuing] false alarms all the time. But you can build a sensory cortex so that it becomes more intelligent and recognizes the owners of the house and doesn’t sound the alarm when it shouldn’t. And it doesn’t need to push that information to the cloud” to know it, either.

Jurvetson admits that earlier in his career, he had the propensity to “fund science projects” that were not necessarily businesses that could scale. Longtime industry observers may recall, for example, Jurvetson’s early enthusiasm for nanotech. (Jurvetson was right, just too early, if you put synthetic biology in this bucket. )

But he also says that his reputation for investing early in what may sound crazy has paid off, and he’s counting on it continuing to do so. It’s why he’s a fixture at places like space conferences; they make it easier for him to reach his target audience. Indeed, if everything goes as planned, he says, “What I’ll be most excited about five years from now will be an industry sector that I couldn’t name for you today.”

Kleiner’s Mamoon Hamid thinks we could be in a 15-year-long bull market (and other insights from the firm)

Late last month, the venture firm Kleiner Perkins began an official reboot, with a new, $600 million fund, as well as some new faces blazing the trail for the outfit going forward, including Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, investors who joined Kleiner from Social Capital and Index Ventures, respectively.

Their roles at the 47-year-old firm are being watched closely. Kleiner was long considered part of a very small circle of top venture funds, but a series of missteps in recent years had yanked it in another direction, with a seemingly endless string of departures further tarnishing its brand. Now, Hamid and Fushman, friends whose paths crossed as children in Frankfurt, Germany, have an opportunity to restore KIeiner to its former glory.

Last week, at a small event hosted in San Francisco by this editor, Hamid and Fushman talked about Kleiner, touching on people who’ve left the firm, how its decision-making process now works, why there are no senior women in its ranks, and what they make of SoftBank’s Vision Fund. (Hint: Hamid doesn’t entirely get it.) They also talked about why they are putting their necks on the line to turn Kleiner back into a powerhouse. Much of our conversation, edited lightly for length, follows.

TC: Mamoon, you left Social Capital, a firm that you’d cofounded, to join Kleiner Perkins in late 2017. Why?

MH: I’d left [my previous venture role with U.S. Venture Partners] n 2011 to start Social Capital with a couple of friends. And it was right around when Steve Jobs had passed away And it seemed like the foolish thing to do. But we were able to raise our first fund and get off the ground and raised a number of funds after that and made some really great investments. Then I had a chance to join Kleiner. There was a point when Kleiner and Social Capital were talking about merging, but it’s hard to do mergers, of private companies, venture capital firms. It’s hard to do, and I think it was the right decision on both parts not to do it. But I got to know the Kleiner folks through that process and it was too compelling to pass up [when they reached out].

TC: How would you characterize your experience at Social Capital, and how does it inform your work at Kleiner?

MH: I’d say venture capital is a very boutique asset class. It doesn’t scale all that well as it comes to both people inside of a firm and the capital you deploy into companies. All you do is create more clones of those companies . . . because the world is finite in terms of what should be out there and what should be used. There shouldn’t be seven versions of Slack; there should be one or two maybe.

The same is true of venture firms. I think what works is a small, nimble, group of dedicated domain experts in certain areas. You can’t have armies running around with your business card [reading] Social Capital. And I think how we look at ourselves at Kleiner Perkins, that’s precisely who we are and who we used to be. If you look at [Kleiner’s] best days, it was a group of five to seven partners, making some really great decisions.

TC: Were you concerned about trading one dramatic situation for another? You knew what was happening inside Social Capital; meanwhile, everyone knew that Kleiner was going through some kind of transition, with a lot of people leaving.

MH: I think part of [my focus] was to be this small group of people, in consumer, enterprise, and I could foresee that happening. Because that was the right strategy, it wasn’t a surprise to me. It wasn’t like I got there and was surprised and thought, Oh my God, this is happening. It was supposed to happen. This is where we driving it to.

TC: Ilya, what made you think this was the right move when Mamoon then asked you to leave Index Ventures to join Kleiner?

IF: Index is a top European venture capital firm. I knew Danny Rimer from Dropbox. Mike Volpi is a partner, and he helped me a lot. And I helped [the firm] get established here in San Francisco, and I did that for about three years, which was frankly an amazing time. And like Mamoon deciding to leave a firm that he started, for me, the decision to leave Index and this part of Index that I helped establish was really difficult — one of the most difficult career decisions of my life, not just because of the firm but the people and the companies they are a part of. So I took a long time to think about this.

But Mamoon and I had chatted on and off for about three years, and a lot of what we talked about as we worked on [shared portfolio companies including] Slack and Intercom and a few other things was what would an ideal venture firm look like if we built it from the ground up. What would be the principles, how would we structure it, how big would it be, how would we think about people who come into it and progress to different levels. And what we envisioned is what we’re building now at Kleiner Perkins. For me, the opportunity to build that atop 47 years of investing history was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

TC: Before we move on, why the split with Mary Meeker and the growth stage business? My understanding was the firm’s best returns in recent years have come from that later-stage side.

IF: Certainly, there were some great logos in the growth-stage fund. But I think returns from [earlier-stage] venture were pretty great as well.

I think where we came down as we were thinking about strategy was this notion of how do you compete. There’s a lot more capital at the seed stage; there’s a lot more capital in growth stage. When we think about ecosystem and landscape of venture, when you look where we’re focused predominately today — which is Series A — the type of work we do and the kind of skills required is mentally quite different from late-stage investing. There’s basically no data. We’re helping founders hire their first sales leader and figure out their product strategy and helping them navigate partnerships. And when you look at the late-stage growth side, a lot of it is financial engineering, and you have to be really good at it, because you have to price things really well. For us, if we’re off 20 to 30 percent on price, it’s probably okay as long as we pick the right company.

And mutually, as we thought about our individual fundraising strategies and our futures, we came to the conclusion that it made complete and total sense for the folks on the early stage and for Mary and other folks to go off and do late-stage investment.

TC: What about Beth Seidenberg and Lynne Chou O’Keefe, two life sciences investors who also left last year? Is health care not interesting to Kleiner? It seems like it’s suddenly interesting to other firms.

MH: Beth is one of the world’s best life sciences investors. She actually retired from Kleiner Perkins. That was her intent with the latest fund, and she has always lived in L.A. and she started her own fund down there and that was part of her plan. So that was not a surprise.

We still do health investing. I think all of us have done digital health investing . . .though they’re more like consumer or enterprise companies. They just happen to sell into the healthcare vertical.

TC: Tell us about the decision-making process and whether that has changed since the two of you joined.

IF: Given that we’re small, we can make decisions very quickly. Sometimes you have to make a decision in a matter of hours or days, and we want to be able to do that, and you can only achieve that with a small, tight-knit group.

So our process is pretty simple. We get together. And you kind of read the room. And if I look at Mamoon and he’s looking at me really skeptically when I’m excited about an opportunity I’m bringing in, I’ll think about it and vice versa. We want the process to be organic and as sort of non-structured as possible to [surface] those decisions that aren’t always unanimous.

If you look at data in venture, the deals where everybody thinks they are bad are probably pretty bad. The deals that everybody thinks are good, they do okay. But it’s really the ones where there is disagreement, where’s there’s controversy, those are the outliers. And it makes intuitive sense, because if it was obviously correct, someone would have build it before.

TC: I hear you have some [junior] investors who are rockstars, including Monica Desai. Will she be a partner some day? Does Kleiner have an apprenticeship model on your watch?

IF: There are various ways to think about a generational transformation or evolution. Our view is we want folks who are thinking long term in their career as investors, who are thinking about and curious about technology, otherwise, you’re pretty bored. And we absolutely think of it as an apprenticeship, learning model where these folks get to work with not just one particular partner or domain but really across the partnership. The goal is to have them invest as quickly as possible and then help companies grow. So it is for us, hopefully Monica and Annie [Case] will be partners very soon.

MH: All five people who are partners today at KP grew up in the business. We were all associates at some point in our career and all of us wanted to be venture capitalists. So there really has to be this mindset of, I really want to do this job, I want to do it really well, and to help great founders build great companies. And we want people to really internalize that aspect of what we do.

TC: Kleiner isn’t the only firm to have five male partners. But given the firm’s history and the press attention paid to it, I wonder: did LPs push back on [your gender makeup]?

MH: LPs don’t push on it. They ask about it. But they also want to make sure that we hire the right people. You’re making a 10-year hire. I’d known Ilya for three years plus before we consummated this relationship. And the KP folks had known me for 10, 15 years before I came to KP. And [longtime partners] Ted [Schlein] and Wen [Hsieh] had already been at KP, Ted for 22 years and Wen for 13 years. So these are really long-term decisions that you’re making, and it’s really important to get it right.

If you spend a year grooming someone, the worst thing that can happen is six months to a year later they’re gone because there’s organ rejection. And that applies to a man or woman, it doesn’t matter. But we’re hiring a consumer partner right now and we’ve been pretty public about wanting some of our partners to be female as well. But you do have to get the chemistry right, the desire to do this job right — everything has to really fit.

TC: What do you think about SoftBank and its Vision Fund? Is it the best thing to happen to venture capital? The worst thing? Soon to be tomorrow’s news?

MH: I’m confused by them. At the Series A, it really doesn’t have an impact. However, the downstream effects [are seen] as companies mature or need to raise capital, or don’t need to raise capital and are offered a bunch of money from SoftBank, which can draw out things. We’re seeing less and less of that, by the way. [There’s] less and less of ‘Here’s money that you don’t need, because we have lots of money to deploy.’ I don’t know why, but last year we saw a lot of that.

I’ve only worked with one company that has raised capital from SoftBank and there’s was a very normal looking round. But I don’t know what to make of SoftBank right now.

TC: How are you feeling about the market generally? A few weeks ago it looked like things were slowing down. Now it seems to have shifted yet again.

MH: It’s weird to be in a nine-, ten-year old bull cycle. Hindsight and statistics suggest that we should have a recession soon. But we’ll tell you that the view on the ground, and the companies we’re involved with, that there’s really strength in almost all of them. These are normal companies that should see softness in their business if there’s something coming down the pike, and we haven’t seen that softness yet in our order numbers. In fact, they’re stronger than ever before.

I don’t know. Maybe we’re in for a 15-year bull run. Maybe there’s this perfect storm of technology coming of age and being so mainstream that there’s not just hundreds of millions of users but billions, and the markets are going to continue to expand and tech companies will continue to thrive, which I think truly is the case. So I don’t know when this one stops. I’m not a macroeconomist, but so far, on the ground, it all looks good.

Jim Steyer runs the powerful nonprofit Common Sense Media; now he’s using his influence to battle big tech

California Governor Gavin Newsom earlier today proposed a so-called digital dividend that would let consumers share in the profits generated by California-based tech companies that have been “collecting, curating and monetizing” their users’ personal data. Newsom added that he has asked his administration to develop a proposal for a “new data dividend for Californians, because we recognize that data has value, and it belongs to you.”

It’s an idea that tech companies will surely argue against if it begins to take shape beyond a talking point, but it has at least one early proponent: Jim Steyer, the founder and CEO of the hugely popular, 15-year-old nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. In fact, says Steyer, the idea is his, and Common Sense, which also has powerful advocacy and educational arms, is working on related legislation right now.

Steyer’s involvement in the background might surprise some of the 125 million people who visit the site each year for advice on which movies, shows, apps and games are age appropriate for their children. But it’s well-known to executives in politics, media and tech, whom Steyer has befriended and sometimes harangued, all in the pursuit of putting children first, he suggests.

As renowned GOP strategist Mark McKinnon told Politico in 2014, Steyer knows everyone, and he doesn’t shy from tapping his vast network when he wants to get something done. In fact, McKinnon told the outlet that he couldn’t remember how he came into Steyer’s orbit initially, but that their meeting was no accident. “He figured I could help him, and he found me . . . He’s connected to more big names than Kevin Bacon.”

We talked with Steyer today (as he was en route to the airport in New York) to talk with him about Common Sense’s reach, how he views tech, and how he has been using his powerful platform in ways that might surprise. Our chat with Steyer (who is big brother of billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer) has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: You have 300 employees, 125 million unique users and you’ve said that Common Sense’s research-based curriculum and tools are used in more than 75,000 U.S. schools. Are people constantly trying to persuade you to turn Common Sense into a for-profit venture?

JS: Forever. All the time. But we’re Switzerland. It’s important to us that you can’t buy our reviews and ratings, even if you’re [CEO] Bob Iger at Disney. We’re there for parents who need an independent resource about TVs, movies, video games, books, cells phones, social media. Our mission is to make children the number one priority in our society.

TC: And you’re financed–

JS: We’re extremely well-financed because we license our ratings to Comcast, to Charter, Cox, Netflix. They all use us, but we’re also their biggest critics on the advocacy front.

TC: I didn’t realize what a political force Common Sense has become, by your telling.

JS: We’re the biggest advocates for [Governor Gavin} Newsom’s early-childhood agenda. We wrote the privacy law that passed in California last year [and offers California consumers sweeping new internet privacy protections beginning next year]. Gavin announced the data dividend today in today’s address; we’re about to introduce legislation on this.

TC: Why this for your life’s work?

JS: Because I was a school teacher in Harlem in the South Bronx. Then I ran the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and started [my first advocacy venture] Children Now [in 1988]. My life’s work has been kids, and there was nobody doing anything like what Common Sense does. There were advocacy groups, but our goal was really to create the AARP for kids.

TC: You went to high school with Roger McNamee, who has written a new book called “Zucked” about the damage Facebook has wreaked on society. We talked with him about it last week. What did you think of the book?

JS: I’m in the book. Did you read the whole thing? Roger and Tristan [Harris, a former design ethicist at Google who is now the director and a co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology] were based out of our office for a year.

I wrote “Talking Back to Facebook,” which basically said the same thing, in 2012. You could see it coming way before “Zucked,” which I told Roger, who was a terrible guitarist in high school, by the way. You can quote me on that. He’s my good friend but he was terrible.

TC: You have four kids. What’s your stance on technology?

JS: My stance? It’s limit it. Set clear rules and follow them. The world of tech and social media is here to stay. The genie is out of the bottle. So you have to come up with a healthy tech diet. You have kids? Don’t let them have cell phones. Delay, delay, delay, baby. The Steyer kids didn’t get a cell phone until high school. Except the fourth. You get tired. He’s also a true digital native, where the older kids have graduated from Stanford and I ask them, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t have phones earlier on? You turned out okay.’

TC: We’re having that battle right now with our 11-year-old. In fact, I’m on Common Sense maybe 10 times a week doing research to counter his arguments. The platform does seem conservative when it comes to age appropriateness.

JS: We’re rating things for people not just who live in San Francisco but who live in Greenville, South Carolina and rural Alabama and in Kabul, Afghanistan. We don’t presuppose that local standards are the same everywhere. That said, we understand that you might subtract a year or two from our recommendations. My own children did that.

TC: What’s the fastest-growing aspect of your content? Is it around social media?

JS: A lot of interest centers on social media — Instagram, Snapchat. People are also very focused on where their kids now watch TV, which is YouTube .

TC: YouTube is very actively driving me crazy right now.

JS: It should be. There are many disgraceful elements and I tell Sundar [Pichai] and Susan [Wojcicki] and they would like to help us. They know it’s a huge pain point.

TC: You sound like Roger McNamee, who talks about Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg eventually seeing the light. Does Google want to work with you? Do you think these platforms should be regulated?

JS: We want to regulate them and we want to work with them. I like Sundar. I like Ruth [Porat, Google’s CFO]. I like the people running Google more than their predecessors, who I also know quite well. But YouTube is the single-most popular platform for kids these days and there are zero controls, zero rules. It’s a completely unregulated environment.

TC: How does Common Sense approach the morass that is YouTube? How can you help parents steer through the content?

JS: We’re looking at the whole picture right now and taking a holistic approach. Sundar is a power user; he has three kids. Susan is my friend. She has five kids. We go to football games together. We are having that discussion. They know it’s a big deal.

TC: And Mark Zuckerberg? Sheryl Sandberg? What’s your take on Facebook, more than six years after writing your book? 

JS: I think all this pressure is an existential threat to their brand. Last year, they were largely mute. Even though they didn’t like when we wrote and passed that privacy act they stayed out of it, because their brand has been so tarnished. Parents know they can’t trust their kids with Facebook and Instagram. And [Instagram founders] Kevin [Systrom] and Mike Krieger have left. Jan Koum of WhatsApp has left. Its record speaks for itself.

We have a complicated relationship because of my book and because we refuse to partner with them. We work through political efforts instead. Do I get invited to Sheryl’s Hanukkah party any more? No.

I respect their extraordinary success. We’ve just disagreed with them on so many levels for so long that I wrote a book about them and I was right. Go read it. You can probably find it for $2.

TC: Is Amazon part of Common Sense Media’s purview?

JS: We highlight kids making purchases without their parents’ knowledge all the time. This is a brave new world, and we’re trying to bring some order to the chaos.

There’s a lot of this libertarian ethos in Silicon Valley that I don’t agree with. The consequences for kids are too steep. It’s been ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.’ And the chickens are coming home to roost.

Aurora cofounder and CEO Chris Urmson on the company’s new investor, Amazon, and much more

You might not think of self-driving technologies and politics having much in common, but at least in one way, they overlap meaningfully: yesterday’s enemy can be tomorrow’s ally.

Such was the message we gleaned Thursday night, at a small industry event in San Francisco, where we had the chance to sit down with Chris Urmson, the cofounder and CEO of Aurora, a company that (among many others) is endeavoring to make self-driving technologies a safer and more widely adopted alternative to human drivers.

It was a big day for Urmson. Earlier the same day, his two-year-old company announced a whopping $530 million in Series B funding, a round that was led by top firm Sequoia Capital and that included “significant investment” from T. Rowe Price and Amazon.

The financing for Aurora — which is building what it calls a “driver” technology that it expects to eventually integrate into cars built by Volkswagen, Hyundai, and China’s Byton, among others —  is highly notable, even in a sea of giant fundings. Not only does it represent Sequoia’s biggest bet yet on any kind of self-driving technology, it’s also an “incredible endorsement” from T. Rowe Price, said Urmson Thursday night, suggesting it demonstrates that the money management giant “thinks long term and strategically [that] we’re the independent option to self-driving cars.”

Even more telling, perhaps, is the participation of Amazon, which is in constant competition to be the world’s most valuable company, and whose involvement could lead to variety of scenarios down the road, from Aurora powering delivery fleets overseen by Amazon, to Amazon acquiring Aurora outright. Amazon has already begun marketing more aggressively to global car companies and Tier 1 suppliers that are focused on building connected products, saying its AWS platform can help them speed their pace of innovation and lower their cost structures. In November, it also debuted a global, autonomous racing league for 1/18th scale, radio-controlled, self-driving four-wheeled race cars that are designed to help developers learn about reinforcement learning, a type of machine learning. Imagine what it could learn from Aurora.

Indeed, at the event, Urmson said that as Aurora had “constructed our funding round, [we were] very much thinking strategically about how to be successful in our mission of building a driver. And one thing that a driver can do is move people, but it can also move goods. And it’s harder to think of a company where moving goods is more important than Amazon.” Added Urmson, “Having the opportunity to have them partner with us in this funding round, and [talk about] what we might build in the future is awesome.” (Aurora’s site also now features language about “transforming the way people and goods move.”)

The interest of Amazon, T. Rowe, Sequoia and Aurora’s other backers isn’t surprising. Urmson was the formal technical lead of Google’s self-driving car program (now Waymo) . One of his cofounders, Drew Bagnell, is a machine learning expert who still teaches at Carnegie Mellon and was formerly the head of Uber’s autonomy and perception team. Aurora’s third cofounder is Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of Tesla’s Autopilot team.

Aurora’s big round seemingly spooked Tesla investors, in fact, with shares in the electric car maker dropping as a media outlets reported on the details. The development seems like just the type of possibility that had Tesla CEO Elon Musk unsettled when Aurora got off the ground a couple of years ago, and Tesla almost immediately filed a lawsuit against it, accusing Urmson and Anderson of trying poach at least a dozen Tesla engineers and accusing Anderson of taking confidential information and destroying the  evidence “in an effort to cover his tracks.”

That suit was dropped two and a half weeks later in a settlement that saw Aurora pay $100,000. Anderson said at the time the amount was meant to cover the cost of an independent auditor to scour Aurora’s systems for confidential Tesla information. Urmson reiterated on Thursday night that it was purely an “economic decision” meant to keep Aurora from getting further embroiled in an expansive spat.

But Urmson, who has previously called the lawsuit “classy,” didn’t take the bait on Thursday when asked about Musk, including whether he has talked in the last two years with Musk (no), and whether Aurora might need Tesla in the future (possibly). Instead of lord Aurora’s momentum over the company, Urmson said that Aurora and Tesla “got off on the wrong foot.” Laughing a bit, he went on to lavish some praise on the self-driving technology that lives inside Tesla cars, adding that “if there’s an opportunity to work them in the future, that’d be great.”

Aurora, which is also competing for now against the likes of Uber, also sees Uber as a potential partner down the line, said Urmson. Asked about the company’s costly self-driving efforts, whose scale has been drastically downsized in the eleven months since one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, Urmson noted simply that Aurora is “in the business of delivering the driver, and Uber needs a lot of drivers, so we think it would be wonder to partner with them, to partner with Lyft, to partner [with companies with similar ambitions] globally. We see those companies as partners in the future.”

He’d added when asked for more specifics that there’s “nothing to talk about right now.”

Before Thursday’s event, Aurora had sent us some more detailed information about the four divisions that currently employ the 200 people that make up the company, a number that will obviously expand with its new round, as will the testing it’s doing, both on California roads and in Pittsburgh, where it also has a sizable presence. We didn’t have a chance to run them during our conversation with Urmson, but we thought they were interesting and that you might think so, too.

Below, for example, is the “hub” of the Aurora Driver. This is the computer system that powers, coordinates and fuses signals from all of the vehicle’s sensors, executes the software and controls the vehicle. Aurora says it’s designing the Aurora Driver to seamlessly integrate with a wide variety of vehicle platforms from different makes, models and classes with the goal of delivering the benefits of its technology broadly.

Below is a visual representation of Aurora’s perception system, which the company says is able to understand complex urban environments where vehicles need to safely navigate amid many moving objects, including bikes, scooters, pedestrians, and cars.

It didn’t imagine it would at the outset, but Aurora is building its own mapping system to ensure what it (naturally) calls the highest level of precision and scalability, so vehicles powered by the company can understand where they are and update the maps as the world changes.

We asked Urmson if, when the tech is finally ready to go into cars, they will white-label the technology or else use Aurora’s brand as a selling point. He said the matter hasn’t been decided yet but seemed to suggest that Aurora is leaning in the latter direction. He also said the technology would be installed on the carmakers’ factory floors (with Aurora’s help).

One of the ways that Aurora says it’s able to efficiently develop a robust “driver” is to build its own simulation system. It uses its simulator to test its software with different scenarios that vehicles encounter on the road, which it says enables repeatable testing that’s impossible to achieve by just driving more miles.

Aurora’s motion planning team works closely with the perception team to create a system that both detects the important objects on and around the road, and tries to accurately predict how they will move in the future. The ability to capture, understand, and predict the motion of other objects is critical if the tech is going to navigate real world scenarios in dense urban environments, and Urmson has said in the past that Aurora has crafted its related workflow in a way that’s superior to competitors that send the technology back and forth.

Specifically, he told The Atlantic last year: “The classic way you engineer a system like this is that you have a team working on perception. They go out and make it as good as they can and they get to a plateau and hand it off to the motion-planning people. And they write the thing that figures out where to stop or how to change a lane and it deals with all the noise that’s in the perception system because it’s not seeing the world perfectly. It has errors. Maybe it thinks it’s moving a little faster or slower than it is. Maybe every once in a while it generates a false positive. The motion-planning system has to respond to that.

“So the motion-planning people are lagging behind the perception people, but they get it all dialed in and it’s working well enough—as well as it can with that level of perception—and then the perception people say, ‘Oh, but we’ve got a new push [of code].’ Then the motion-planning people are behind the eight ball again, and their system is breaking when it shouldn’t.”

We also asked Urmson about Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo as it spun out from the Alphabet umbrella as its own company. He was highly diplomatic, saying only good things about the company and, when asked if they’d ever challenged him on anything since leaving, answering that they had not.

Still, he told as one of the biggest advantage that Aurora enjoys is that it was able to use the learnings of its three founders and to start from scratch, whereas the big companies from which each has come cannot completely start over.

As he told TechCrunch in a separate interview last year when asked how Aurora tests its technology, then it comes to self-driving tech, size matters less than one might imagine. “There’s this really easy metric that everyone is using, which is number of miles driven, and it’s one of those things that was really convenient for me in my old place [Google] because we’re out there and we were doing a hell of a lot more than anybody else was at the time, and so it was an easy number to talk about. What’s lost in that, though, is it’s not really the volume of the miles that you drive.” It’s about the quality of the data, he’d continued, suggesting that, for now, at least, Aurora’s is hard to beat.

The next big bet for former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick may be cloud kitchens — in China

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick may have been nudged out of one of the world’s most highly valuable private companies by investors frustrated over its troubled culture, but his moves remain of great interest given how far he’d driven the rideshare giant.

One such move, according to a new report in the South China Morning Post, looks to be to help foster the growing concept of cloud kitchens in China.

We’ve reached out to Kalanick for more information, but per the SCMP’s report, Kalanick is partnering with the former COO of the bike-sharing startup Ofo, Yanqi Zhang. Their apparent project involves Kalanick’s L.A.-based company, CloudKitchens, which enables restaurants to set up kitchens for the purposes of catering exclusively to customers ordering in, as that’s how many people are consuming restaurant food in increasing numbers. (More on the movement here and here.) The kitchens are established in underutilized real estate that Kalanick is snapping up through a holding company called City Storage Systems.

According to The Spoon, a food industry blog, the trend is beginning to gain momentum in particular regions, including India, where it says many restaurants struggle to afford the traditional restaurant model, which often involves paying top dollar for rent, as well covering wages for employees, from dishwashers to cooks to servers. Using so-called cloud kitchens enables these restaurateurs to share facilities with others, and to do away with much of their other overhead.

Some are even being promised more affordable equipment. For example, according to The Spoon, the restaurant review site Zomato, through its now two-year-old service called Zomato Infrastructure Services, aims to create kitchen “pods” that restaurants can rent, and it’s using data to identify recently closed restaurants that may be looking to offload their kitchen equipment for whatever they can get for it.

Shared kitchens have also been taking off in China, as notes the SCMP, which cites Beijing-based Panda Selected and Shanghai-based Jike Alliance as just two companies that Kalanick would be bumping up against.

Kalanick wasn’t the first here in the U.S. to spy the trend bubbling up, but he seems to be taking it as seriously as any entrepreneur. Last year, he spent $150 million to buy a controlling stake in City Storage Systems, the holding company of CloudKitchens, through a fund that he established around the same time, called the 10100 fund. The money was used to buy out most of the company’s earlier backers, including venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, according to a report last year by Recode.

That same report said that Kalanick now has a controlling interest in City Storage Systems. It also said that serial entrepreneur Sky Dayton — who previously founded EarthLink, co-founded eCompanies and founded Boingo — is a co-founder.

City Storage Systems isn’t interested in on-demand kitchens alone, reportedly. The idea behind it is to buy distressed real estate, including parking lots, and repurpose it for a number of online-focused ventures.

While the China twist looks like a new development, it wouldn’t be a wholly surprising move. Having had to back out of China with Uber in 2016, Kalanick may be of a mind to jump into the country faster this time around, and with a local partner with whom he has a relationship. Indeed, Zhang spent two years as a regional manager for Uber in China before co-founding Ofo, which has since run into problems of its own.

We’ve also reached to Zhang for this story and hope to update it when we learn more.

Pinterest puts an IPO on its pinboard, hiring Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to lead an offering this year

Pinterest, the 11-year-old, San Francisco-based site known for the photos its users post about everything from wedding to beauty to art world trends, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that it’s planning to stage later this year.

Reuters first reported the news. TechCrunch sources have since confirmed the development. A Pinterest spokesperson declined to “comment on rumors and speculation” when asked this afternoon for more information.

Pinterest has raised roughly $1.5 billion over the years and was valued at $12 billion by its private investors during its last fundraising round in 2017. Notably, its backers include Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, among many other investment firms, both early and later-stage, like Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The company’s revenue last year was $700 million, more than double what the company generated in revenue in 2017.

It has 250 million monthly active users, compared with the 200 million monthly active users who were on the platform as of mid 2017.

Whether Pinterest has ever been profitable, we couldn’t learn this afternoon. But the company employs 1,600 people across 13 cities globally, including Chicago, London, Paris, São Paulo, Berlin, and Tokyo, and half its users now live outside the U.S., with the international market its fastest-growing segment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than 80 percent of people access the service via its mobile app.

Assessing how Pinterest’s shares might be received by public market shareholders has become a favorite parlor game for Silicon Valley denizens. In a recent report, the outlet The Information posited that Pinterest’s offering could suffer because it’s a social media company that’s frequently lumped together with companies like Facebook and Twitter that have repeatedly raised concerns about users’ privacy and have faced a nearly year-long backlash as a result.

Yet Pinterest is far afield from what most users think of as social media and more akin to a visual search and discovery platform, with people looking for ideas and inspiration rather than to reach other people. So thinks venture capitalist Venky Ganesan of Menlo Ventures, who noted on a recent  TechCrunch podcast that “there are no Russian trolls” on Pinterest. More, he’d said, “I haven’t seen Pinterest sell [users’] data. They’re using data to [figure out] advertising on Pinterest; they aren’t brokering [that information] to others.”

Another potential concern for Pinterest is its reliance advertising, which is often the easiest expense for companies to slash when an economy begins to cool, as may be happening here in the U.S. Ads make up 100 percent of the company’s revenue. Here, too, however, Pinterest could prove more durable than some of its competitors. While brand-image driven advertising often gets cut when budgets tighten, direct response advertising often does even better in down markets, as companies seek out clearer returns on their investment, and much of Pinterest’s revenue is driven by direct response advertising. Users see, they click, and they buy. As Ganesan offered during that same podcast visit, “I’ve got three daughters at home, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest, and they buy stuff.” (Ganesan isn’t an investor in the company; neither is the broader Menlo Ventures team.)

Pinterest could reportedly seek to raise up to $1.5 billion in an offering, according to past media reports. Whether it targets more or less, we’re likely to learn soon, but an IPO has been expected for some time, in part because the company is now getting up there in years as startups go, in part because of its continued growth, and in part because of some new hires that seemed to suggest the company has been gearing up to become publicly traded.

In November, for example, Pinterest brought aboard its first-ever chief marketing officer in Andréa Mallard, who joined the company from Athleta, Gap’s activewear brand, and who now oversees its global marketing and creative teams.

Roughly a year ago, Pinterest also recruited its first COO, hiring  Francoise Brougher, who was previously a  business lead at Square and a VP of SMB global sales and operations at Google before that.

In fact, unlike many of today’s buzziest companies, Pinterest seems to have retained almost all of the executives who work at the company with one notable exception, In late 2017, it parted ways with its then president, Tim Kendall, who’d been with Pinterest for more than five years at the time and who left to start his own health wellness company.

Jobs platform Vangst just raised $10 million to plug more people into the fast-growing cannabis industry

People are increasingly interested in finding a way to participate in the cannabis industry, and for good reason. It’s growing like a weed (yes, we said it). According to a San Francisco-based research company, Grand View Research, the global legal marijuana market is expected to reach $146.4 billion by end of 2025.

Still, it isn’t easy for potential recruits to know where to look for both temporary and permanent jobs, and it’s just as challenging for companies to find candidates who understand their business. Enter Vangst, a now three-year-old,  Denver-based startup that just raised $10 million in Series A funding from earlier backers Casa Verde Capital and Lerer Hippeau to become the go-to recruiting platform for the cannabis industry, even while going up against several older entrants, including Seattle-based Viridian Staffing and Ganjapreneur, in Bellingham, Wa.

Yesterday, with chatted with the CEO and founder of the now 70-person company, Karson Humiston, about starting the platform in college, and why she isn’t so worried about the competition.

TC: Some people launch startups in college. Not many of them grow them into sustainable companies. How did Vangst get going?

KH: I went to St. Lawrence University in upstate New York and while there, I’d started a student company and compiled a database of students and recent grads — people who’d gone on trips through the startup or expressed an interest in going on trips. The spring of my senior year, in 2015, I sent an email to all of them asking what jobs they were interested in, and more than 70 percent said the cannabis industry.

TC: Wow, interesting.

KH: That was my reaction, but living in New York where recreational cannabis isn’t yet legal, I didn’t know a lot about it. So I took a weekend off from school to go to a trade show in Colorado, where I saw everything from cultivation to extraction to retail to ancillary businesses. And when I asked what jobs they were looking to fill, they said, essentially, everything: a director of cultivation, retail dispensary store managers, HR, marketing. They all said it was their top pain point because if they posted on a traditional jobs board — and remember, this was 2015 — the listing would often get taken down. Meanwhile, there was no industry-specific resource because it [marijuana is] federally illegal.

TC: So you dropped the travel startup idea and pursued this. Where did you start?

KH: First, I rushed back to St. Lawrence and made an inexpensive site on Wix and starting connecting people in my database with summer internships. I’d told the companies I’d met with that I could find them employees for $500 and I called this new company Graduana, [with the tagline] green jobs for grads. My thought was, I’ll go to Colorado and do Graduana for six months and see where the industry really is.

By the spring of 2016, I realized that demand far exceeded interns and recent grads and the we needed to find recruiters who know what they’re doing, so we brought on recruiters who was just focused on cultivation, for example, and who know the difference between someone who can grow cannabis in the garage and someone who has done large-scale agricultural growing. They they started pulling in people from the tomato and tulip and big commerical ag who’ve grown [plants] in big state-of-the-art greenhouses and could bring important skills to the table. We also brought in recruiters to just focus on the retail side of things.

It became this profitable, 25-person, boutique staffing agency. But we also saw an opportunity for on-demand labor, because of the seasonality of the industry. Cannabis grows, then it needs to be trimmed and packaged. . .

TC: So it was time for venture capital?

KH: When you’re talking about temporary staffing, it’s been done really manually in this industry so we wanted to build a platform that would notify candidates that a . certain company needs 20 trimmers and is willing to pay $12 an hour and where, meanwhile, employers could see that someone has trimmed for 2,000 hours, and each could rate each other. So we needed to hire engineering and a customer success team and legal, and our revenue wasn’t going to cover those costs.

Thankfully, a founder friend in the space, Ryan Smith of LeafLink, introduced us to Lerer Hippeau when he heard were raising a seed round. We received a warm intro to Casa Verde, too, and both have been amazingly helpful to us.

TC: Are you still doing high-end hiring, too?

KH: We are. Revenue from that piece of our business, where we’re helping companies find COOs or a director fo cultivation or extraction, more than doubled last year and continues to be profitable. We get 1,000 resumes some days. We now have 200,000 job candidates on the p latform.

TC: Obviously you’re charging employers different amounts depending on the the type of role you’re filling. Can you share some specifics?

KH: Right On the direct hire side, we take a percentage of their first year’s salary. On the gig side, a company tells us how much they’d like to pay for gig workers, and there’s a mark-up on that that we keep.

TC: No matter how long that person works for your client?

KH: It’s usually for a matter of weeks. If it’s longer than that, we charge the a buyout fee [to step out of the relationship].

TC: I take it you’re marketing the service to college students largely.

KH: We market the service through career fairs that we throw in different states, and at trade shows in and out of the industry.  We also spent time going to college campuses. But our acquisition costs have been relatively low. Everyone who gets placed with us is known as an original Vangster and we do Vangster nights, where anyone in our network can bring a friend and we can help turn them into employees, too.

TC: More states are legalizing recreational cannabis; how are you drumming up workforces in different places?

KH: We have a team now in Denver, in Santa Monica, and a small team in Oakland, and as we launch additional cities for Vangst gigs, we’re hiring managers and people who can do client outreach and candidate vetting and onboarding. We just hired an early employee of Uber, Will Zinsmeister, who helped oversee the launch of cities in Texas for Uber, so we’re excited to have Will and others thinking through supply and demand issues as we launch more widely.

TC: Out of curiosity, how much do cannabis jobs pay, and how many people work in the industry right now – – do you have any idea?

KH: I think there’s more than 160,000 employees across the cannabis industry right now, and by 2022, the industry is expected to grow to around 340,000 full-time employees.

We did survey 1,500 people to put together a salary guide and one of the questions we asked what how much of their labor needs are seasonable versus otherwise and they said about 30 percent.

As for the salaries, the on-demand jobs are very in line with other industries. When it comes to full time jobs, outside sales jobs pay on average a salary of $73,000, which is in line with other outside sales jobs. On the higher end, a compliance manager can make $149,000, a director of extraction makes on average $191,000 and a director of cultivation on the high end . can make $250,000.

TC: I think that’s more than people might have imagined. Who is landing these higher-end jobs other than people with backgrounds in traditional large-scale farming?

KH: You’re seeing people graduating with a degree in botany who’ve maybe worked for a cannabis company for six years and are seen as having very unique experience. We’re seeing a lot of clients in Maryland and other places saying they want candidates from Colorado.

FanDuel co-founder Tom Griffiths just closed a seed round for his decidedly noncontroversial new startup, Hone

Tom Griffiths has founded four companies, two of which “weren’t much to write home about,” he jokes. The third captured the world’s attention: FanDuel, the fantasy sports company that was routinely in the press — not always for desirable reasons — from nearly the day it launched, to its near merger with rival DraftKings, to its ultimate sale last May to the European betting giant Paddy Power Betfair in a deal that reportedly saw FanDuel’s founders, along with its employees, walk away with almost nothing at the end of their roller coaster ride.

Little wonder that Griffith’s new, fourth company, Hone, is targeting the comparatively undramatic world of workforce training. Specifically, Hone and his small team have built a platform for modern and distributed teams, inspired largely by FanDuel’s experience of becoming a unicorn at one point in just six years’ time, and growing its team from 5 to 500 people in the process. Looking back, says Griffiths, “We really didn’t have the manager training we wanted or needed.”

In fact, Griffiths had already left the company by the time it was acquired, around his 10th anniversary last year, to “go back to the start.” It was time, he says. FanDuel had grown like a weed. He was exhausted by the many regulators wrestling with whether FanDuel provided a legally acceptable form of gambling. He knew he wanted to work in education, too. “My mom was a teacher,” he offers simply.

Enter Griffith’s newest act, which is just 10 months old at this point. The goal of the San Francisco-based company is to improve people’s skills around leadership management and people management, specifically at companies that already have hundreds of employees and that are dealing with increasingly distributed and diverse teams.

Hone is obviously not the first company tackling the remote management training or team building. The market already attracts tens of billions of dollars each year. But he insists it will be one of the best, including because it’s unlike a lot of what’s available currently. For one thing, Hone is very anti-traditional workshop. Hone also eschews pre-recorded video, working instead with qualified professional coaches who have to audition for Hone and who are already teaching a growing number of customers 12 different modules, typically in online class sizes of eight to a dozen people.

A company simply signs up, chooses from the programs (these include an intensive manager bootcamp, for example, as well as a manager 101 program), then embarks on what are 60- to 90-minute sessions each week for seven weeks.

The idea, in part, is for the learnings to stick. According to Griffiths, trainees forget 70 percent of what they are taught within 24 hours of a training experience. Instilling new lessons and reiterating old ones produces a greater return on investment for Hone’s customers, he suggests.

Hone’s underlying platform is also a differentiator, he says. It contains a reporting interface, so companies can not only see who is in attendance, but they can measure learner feedback through students who are asked afterward to provide the company with details about what they’ve learned. Hone’s software can also track how many questions were asked to assess engagement.

The self-learning platform gives Hone an easier way to assess how successful, or not, a particular module proves to be, and it allows Hone to continue sharpening its products. In fact, Griffiths says that by working with early, paying customers that include WeWork, Clear, App Annie, Dashlane, Omada Health, SoulCycle and others, Hone has already learned much that it intends to bake into future products,.

“We were in pilot mode last year to get product-market fit.” Now, the company is ready for its close-up, he suggests.

Some new funding should help. In addition to taking the wraps off Hone and opening more widely for business, the company just raised $3.6 million in seed funding led by Cowboy Ventures and Harrison Metal. Other participants in the round include Slack Fund, Reach Capital, Rethink Education, Day One Ventures, Entangled Ventures and numerous relevant angel investors, like Masterclass CEO David Rogier and Guild Education CEO Rachel Carlson.

What the 10-month-old company isn’t sharing publicly just yet is its pricing, which may remain flexible in any case. Says Griffiths, “We work with customers to diagnose their needs, then we create a package, one that’s far more reasonable than classroom training. There’s no travel. No instructor having to come to you.”

Griffiths is more forthcoming when it comes to lessons learned at FanDuel. Among these is aligning one’s self with investors who share a company’s values. He points to Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, calling her a “towering pillar of progressive values, equality, inclusion and diversity.” What he saw at FanDuel, he says, is that “investors can influence culture. So from the board down, you want people who share your same values.”

Griffiths also stresses the “importance of establishing a strong culture and a vision from the start, and to live that every day as you grow.

“It’s something we did well at FanDuel at some times,” he says, “and not so well at other times.”

Hone founders, left to right: Savina Perez, who was formerly a VP of marketing at CultureIQ, a platform that aims to helps companies strengthen their culture; Tom Griffiths; and Jeremy Hamel, who was formerly the head of product at CultureIQ.