Startups Weekly: What countries want your startup?

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

They say business needs certainty to succeed, but new tech startups are still getting funded aggressively despite the pandemic, recession, trade wars and various large disasters created by nature or humans. But before we get to the positive data, let’s spend some time reviewing the hard news — there is a lot of it to process.

TikTok is on track to get banned if it doesn’t get sold first, and leading internet company Tencent’s WeChat is on the list as well, plus Trump administration has a bigger “Clean Network” plan in the works. The TikTok headlines are the least significant part, even if they are dominating the media cycle. The video-sharing social network is just now emerging as an intriguing marketing channel, for example. And if it goes, few see any real opening in the short-form video space that market leaders aren’t already deep into. Indeed, TikTok wasn’t a startup story since the Musical.ly acquisition. It was actually part of an emerging global market battle between giant internet companies, that is being prematurely ended by political forces. We’ll never know if TikTok could have continued leveraging ByteDance’s vast resources and protected market in China to take on Facebook directly on its home turf.

Instead of quasi-monopolies trying to finish taking over the world, those with a monopoly on violence have scrambled the map. WeChat is mainly used by the Chinese diaspora in the US, including many US startups with friends, family and colleagues in China. And the Clean Network plan would potentially split the Chinese mobile ecosystem from iOS and Android globally.

Let’s not forget that Europe has also been busy regulating foreign tech companies, including from both the US and China. Now every founder has to wonder how big their TAM is going to be in a world cleaved back the leading nation-states and their various allies.

“It’s not about the chilling effect [in Hong Kong],” an American executive in China told Rita Liao this week about the view in China’s startup world. “The problem is there won’t be opportunities in the U.S., Canada, Australia or India any more. The chance of succeeding in Europe is also becoming smaller, and the risks are increasing a lot. From now on, Chinese companies going global can only look to Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.”

The silver lining, I hope, is that tech companies from everywhere are still going to be competing in regions of the world that will appreciate the interest.

Startup fundraising activity is booming and set to boom more

A fresh analysis from our friends over at Docsend reveals that startup investment activity has actually sped up this year, at least by the measure of pitchdeck activity on its document management platform used by thousands of companies in Silicon Valley and globally (which makes it a key indicator of this hard-to-see action).

Founders are sending out more links than before and VCs are racing through more decks faster, despite the gyrations of the pandemic and other shocks. Meanwhile, many startups shared that they had cut back hard in March and now have more room to wait or raise on good terms. Docsend CEO Russ Heddleston concludes that the rest of the year could actually see activity increase further as companies finish adjusting to the latest challenges and are ready to go back out to market.

All this should shape how you approach your pitchdeck, he writes separately for Extra Crunch. Additional data shows that decks should be on the short side, must include a “why now” slide that addresses the COVID-19 era, and show big growth opportunities in the financials.

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

SaaS founders could transcend VC fundraising via securitized debt

“In one decade, we went from buying licenses for software to paying monthly for services and in the process, revolutionized the hundreds of billions spent on enterprise IT,” Danny Crichton observes. “There is no reason why in another decade, SaaS founders with the metrics to prove it shouldn’t have access to less dilutive capital through significantly more sophisticated debt underwriting. That’s going to be a boon for their own returns, but a huge challenge for VC firms that have been doubling down on SaaS.”

Sure, the market is sort of providing this with various existing venture debt vehicles, and by other routes like private equity (which has acquired a taste for SaaS metrics this past decade). Danny sees a more sophisticated world evolving, as he details on Extra Crunch this week. First, he sees underwriters tying loans to recurring revenues, even to the point that your customers could be your assets that the bank takes if you go bust. The trend could then build from there:

Part two is to take all those individual loans and package them together into a security… Imagine being an investor who believes that the world is going to digitize payroll. Maybe you don’t know which of the 30 SaaS providers on the market are going to win. Rather than trying your luck at the VC lottery, you could instead buy “2018 SaaS payroll debt” securities, which would give you exposure to this market that’s safer, if without the sort of exponential upside typical of VC investments. You could imagine grouping debt by market sector, or by customer type, or by geography, or by some other characteristic.

Image Credits: Hussein Malla / AP

Help the startup scene in Beirut

Beirut is home to a vibrant startup scene but like the rest of Lebanon it is reeling from a massive explosion at its main port this week. Mike Butcher, who has helped connect TechCrunch with the city over the years, has put together a guide to local people and organizations that you can help out, along with stories from local founders about what they are overcoming. Here’s Cherif Massoud, a dental surgeon turned founder of invisible-braces startup Basma:

We are a team of 25 people and were all in our office in Beirut when it happened. Thankfully we all survived. No words can describe my anger. Five of us were badly injured with glass shattered on their bodies. The fear we lived was traumatizing. The next morning day, we went back to the office to clean all the mess, took measurements of all the broken windows and started rebuilding it. It’s a miracle we are alive. Our markets are mainly KSA and UAE, so customers were still buying our treatments online, but the team needed to recover so we decided to take a break, stop the operations for a few days and rest until next Monday.

How to build a great “revenue stack”

Every business has been scrambling to figure out online sales and marketing during the pandemic. Fortunately the Cambrian explosion of SaaS products began years ago and now there are many powerful options for revenue teams of all shapes and sizes. The problem is how to put everything together right for your company’s needs. Tim Porter and Erica La Cava of Madrona Venture Group have created a framework for how to build what they call the “revenue stack.” While most companies are already using some form of CRM, communications and agreement management software generally, each one needs to figure out four new “capabilities.” What they define as revenue enablement, sales engagement, conversational intelligence and revenue operations.

Here’s a sample from Extra Crunch, about sales engagement:

Some think of sales engagement as an intelligent e-mail cannon and analysis engine on steroids. While in reality, it is much more. Consider these examples: How can I communicate with prospects in a way that is both personalized and efficient? How do I make my outbound sales reps more productive and enable them to respond more quickly to leads? What tools can help me with account-based marketing? What happened to that email you sent out to one of your sales prospects?

Now, take these questions and multiply them by a hundred, or even a thousand: How do you personalize a multitouch nurture campaign at scale while managing and automating outreach to many different business personas across various industry segments? Uh-oh. Suddenly, it gets very complicated. What sales engagement comes down to is the critical understanding of sending the right information to the right customer, and then (and only then) being able to track which elements of that information worked (e.g., led to clicks, conversations and conversions) … and, finally, helping your reps do more of that. We see Outreach as the clear leader here, based in Seattle, with SalesLoft as the number two. Outreach in particular is investing considerably in adding additional intelligence and ML to their offering to increase automation and improve outcomes.

Around TechCrunch

Hear how working from home is changing startups and investing at Disrupt 2020

Extra Crunch Live: Join Wealthfront CEO Andy Rachleff August 11 at 1pm EDT/10am PDT about the future of investing and fintech

Register for Disrupt to take part in our content series for Digital Startup Alley exhibitors

Boston Dynamics CEO Rob Playter is coming to Disrupt 2020 to talk robotics and automation

Across the week

TechCrunch
The tale of 2 challenger bank models

Majority of tech workers expect company solidarity with Black Lives Matter

‘Made in America’ is on (government) life support, and the prognosis isn’t good

What Microsoft should demand in exchange for its ‘payment’ to the US government for TikTok

Equity Monday: Could Satya and TikTok make ByteDance investors happy enough to dance?

Extra Crunch
5 VCs on the future of Michigan’s startup ecosystem

Eight trends accelerating the age of commercial-ready quantum computing

A look inside Gmail’s product development process

The story behind Rent the Runway’s first check

After Shopify’s huge quarter, BigCommerce raises its IPO price range

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

As ever, I was joined by TechCrunch managing editor Danny Crichton and our early-stage venture capital reporter Natasha Mascarenhas. We had Chris on the dials and a pile of news to get through, so we were pretty hyped heading into the show.

But before we could truly get started we had to discuss Cincinnati, and TikTok. Pleasantries and extortion out of the way, we got busy:

It was another fun week! As always we appreciate you sticking with and supporting the show!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: Qualtrics IPO to be even more exciting this time around

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

German software giant SAP bought experience management platform Qualtrics for $8 billion days before the unicorn’s IPO, back in November of 2018. But last weekend it decided to spin out the experience management provider to finally go public on its own. The analysts Ron Miller talked to speculated about strategic issues on the SAP side, and concluded this was more of an internal reset combined with the financial gain from a promising offering.

Qualtrics, meanwhile, already put the Utah startup scene on the map for people around the world. Having grown strongly post-acquisition, it is now set up to be the largest IPO in state history. Here’s Alex Wilhelm with more analysis in Extra Crunch:

According to metrics from the Bessemer Cloud Index, cloud companies with growth rates of 35.5% and gross margins of 71.3% are worth around 17.3x in enterprise value compared to their annualized revenue.

Given how close Qualtrics is to that averaged set of metrics (slightly slower growth, slightly better gross margins), the 17.3x number is probably not far from what the company can achieve when it does go public. Doing the sums, $800 million times 17.3 is $13.8 billion, far more than what SAP paid for Qualtrics. (For you wonks out there, it’s doubtful that Qualtrics has much debt, though it will have lots of cash post-IPO; expect the company’s enterprise value to be a little under its future market cap.)

So, the markets are valuing cloud companies so highly today that even after SAP had to pay a huge premium to buy Qualtrics ahead of its public offering, the company is still sharply more valuable today after just two years of growth.

Back to the era of nation-states

The tech industry is getting broken down and reformed by national governments in ways that many of its leaders do not seem to have planned for as part of scaling to the world, whether you consider TikTok’s ever-shrinking global footprint or leading tech CEOs getting called out by Congress. When you skim through the numerous headlines on these topics this week, you’ll see a very clear message in the subtext: Every startup has to think more carefully about its place in the world these days, as a matter of survival.

Big tech crushes Q2 earnings expectations

Lawmakers argue that big tech stands to benefit from the pandemic and must be regulated

Secret documents from US antitrust probe reveal big tech’s plot to control or crush the competition

Apple’s App Store commission structure called into question in antitrust hearing

Zuckerberg unconvincingly feigns ignorance of data-sucking VPN scandal

In antitrust hearing, Zuckerberg admits Facebook has copied its competition

Before buying Instagram, Zuckerberg warned employees of ‘battle’ to ‘dislodge’ competitor

Apple CEO Tim Cook questioned over App Store’s removal of rival screen time apps in antitrust hearing

Google’s Sundar Pichai grilled over ‘destroying anonymity on the internet’

Bezos ‘can’t guarantee’ no anti-competitive activity as Congress catches him flat-footed

Amazon’s hardware business doesn’t escape Congressional scrutiny

Time for TikTok:

India bans 47 apps cloning restricted Chinese services

After India and US, Japan looks to ban TikTok and other Chinese apps

Report: Microsoft in talks to buy TikTok’s US business from China’s ByteDance

The leading arguments for a Microsoft-TikTok tie-up ;)

And last but not least ominously, for large platforms…

Australia now has a template for forcing Facebook and Google to pay for news

The team at remote-first enterprise startup Seeq put together this montage of some of its remote offices.

Remote work still getting big investment

This loosely defined subsector of SaaS went from being a somewhat mainstream idea within the startup world last year to being fully mainstream with the wider world due to the pandemic this year. But publicly traded companies have been some of the biggest beneficiaries (see previous item), and the action around earlier-stage startups has been less clear. Lucas Matney and Alex caught up with six investors who have been focused on various parts of the space to get the latest for Extra Crunch. Here’s a pithy description of fundraising trends that companies are experiencing, from Elliott Robinson, a growth-stage investor at Bessemer:

How competitive are remote-work tooling venture rounds now?

Incredibly competitive. I think one dynamic I’ve seen play out is that the basket of remote-work companies that are really high-performing right now are setting lofty price expectations well ahead of the raise. Many of these companies didn’t plan on raising in Q2/Q3, but with COVID tailwinds, they are choosing to raise at some often sight-unseen-level valuation multiples.

Are prices out of control?

I think it depends on your definition of out of control. The reality is that many of these companies are raising money off cycle from their natural fundraising date for two reasons: One, they are seeing once in a lifetime digital transformation and adoption of remote-work tooling solutions. And, two, so many investors have raised sizable funds during the last nine months that they are leaning into investing in these companies — one of the few segments that will likely continue to see tailwinds as COVID cases continue to rise again in the U.S. Other traditional software value props may face significant headwinds in a uncertain COVID world. Thus, growth equity investors are paying high multiples to get a shot at the category-defining RW app companies.

Haptics in a pandemic-stricken world

Haptics are a great sort of gee-whiz technology, but the practical future of touch-based communication is all over the place — VR devices are suddenly more interesting, touchpads less so. Devon Powers and David Parisi are academics and authors who focus on the space, and they wrote a big guest post for TechCrunch this week that sketched out some of the ups and downs of the decades-old concept. Here’s a key excerpt:

Getting haptics right remains challenging despite more than 30 years’ worth of dedicated research in the field. There is no evidence that COVID is accelerating the development of projects already in the pipeline. The fantasy of virtual touch remains seductive, but striking the golden mean between fidelity, ergonomics and cost will continue to be a challenge that can only be met through a protracted process of marketplace trial-and-error. And while haptics retains immense potential, it isn’t a magic bullet for mending the psychological effects of physical distancing.

Curiously, one promising exception is in the replacement of touchscreens using a combination of hand-tracking and midair haptic holograms, which function as button replacements. This product from Bristol-based company Ultraleap uses an array of speakers to project tangible soundwaves into the air, which provide resistance when pressed on, effectively replicating the feeling of clicking a button.

Ultraleap recently announced that it would partner with the cinema advertising company CEN to equip lobby advertising displays found in movie theaters around the U.S. with touchless haptics aimed at allowing interaction with the screen without the risks of touching one. These displays, according to Ultraleap, “will limit the spread of germs and provide safe and natural interaction with content.”

A recent study carried out by the company found that more than 80% of respondents expressed concerns over touchscreen hygiene, prompting Ultraleap to speculate that we are reaching “the end of the [public] touchscreen era.” Rather than initiate a technological change, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to push ahead on the deployment of existing technology. Touchscreens are no longer sites of naturalistic, creative interaction, but are now spaces of contagion to be avoided. Ultraleap’s version of the future would have us touching air instead of contaminated glass.

Finding the best investors for you: The TC List and Europe surveys

Speaking of investors, TechCrunch has been busy with a few other projects to you find the right ones faster.

First, Danny Crichton has pushed a third update to The TechCrunch List, due to the ongoing flood of recommendations. In his words: “Now using more than 2,600 founder recommendations — more than double our original dataset — we have underscored a number of the existing investors on our list as well as added 116 new investors who have been endorsed by founders as investors willing to cut against the grain and write those critical first checks and lead venture rounds.”

Check it out and filter by location, category and stage to narrow down your pitch list. If you are a founder and haven’t submitted your recommendation yet, please fill out our very brief survey. If you have questions, we put together a Frequently Asked Questions page that describes the qualifications and logistics, some of the logic behind the List and how to get in touch with us.

Second, our editor-at-large Mike Butcher is embarking on a virtual investor survey of European countries, to help Extra Crunch provide a clearer view about what’s happening in the Continent’s startup hubs in the middle of the world going crazy:

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe. Over the next few weeks, we will be “zeroing-in” on Europe’s major cities, from A-Z, Amsterdam to Zurich — and many points in-between. It’s part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. For example, here is the recent survey of London.

Our survey will capture how each European startup hub is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19 and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here. Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you want to add, the better.

The deadline for entries is the end of next week, August 7th and you can fill it out here.

He also wanted me to let you know that he’ll resume his in-person trips as soon as allowed. (I actually made that up, but he has said as much.)

Around TechCrunch

Submit your pitch deck to Disrupt 2020’s Pitch Deck Teardown

Announcing the Disrupt 2020 agenda

Talking virtual events and Disrupt with Hopin founder Johnny Boufarhat

The TechCrunch Exchange: What’s an IPO to a SPAC?— In case you haven’t checked out Alex’s new weekly email newsletter yet.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Connected audio was a bad choice

Stanford students are short-circuiting VC firms by investing in their peers

Bitcoin bulls are running, as prices spike above $11K

Recruiting for diversity in VC

Build products that improve the lives of inmates

Extra Crunch

Six things venture capitalists are looking for in your pitch

VCs and startups consider HaaS model for consumer devices

Teespring’s comeback story

Cannabis VC Karan Wadhera on why the industry, which took a hit last year, is now quietly blazing

Jesus, SaaS and digital tithing

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We had the full team this week: MyselfDanny and Natasha on the mics, with Chris running skipper as always.

Sadly this week we had to kick off with a correction as I am 1) dumb, and, 2) see point one. But after we got past SPAC nuances (shout-out to David Ethridge), we had a full show of good stuff, including:

And that’s Equity for this week. We are back Monday morning early, so make sure you are keeping tabs on our socials. Hugs, talk soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: What education do you need to build a great tech company?

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

The easy startup ideas have all been done — the ones that just required some homebrew hardware hacking or PHP dorm-room coding to get off the ground. These days, you might need multiple advanced technical degrees to accomplish something significant. At least that’s what Danny Crichton muses grimly this week, in an essay entitled “The two PhD problem of startups today.” Here’s one newsy example:

Take synthetic biology and the future of pharmaceuticals. There is a popular and now well-funded thesis on crossing machine learning and biology/medicine together to create the next generation of pharma and clinical treatment. The datasets are there, the patients are ready to buy, and the old ways of discovering new candidates to treat diseases look positively ancient against a more deliberate and automated approach afforded by modern algorithms.

Moving the needle even slightly here though requires enormous knowledge of two very hard and disparate fields. AI and bio are domains that get extremely complex extremely fast, and also where researchers and founders quickly reach the frontiers of knowledge. These aren’t “solved” fields by any stretch of the imagination, and it isn’t uncommon to quickly reach a “No one really knows” answer to a question.

Even when you try to build teams with the right combinations of knowledge, he argues, each domain is now so complex that the mesh of skills required is that much harder to achieve than previous efforts.

I partly disagree, because innovation does not map on to existing domains in such a simple way. Computer scientists in the ’60s did not expect personal computing to be a thing until the homebrewers at Apple proved it. Enterprise software industry experts last decade did not expect consumer app developers to apply their bottoms-up growth skills and beat sophisticated offerings from incumbents. I expect all sorts of arcane academic ideas to be fused with market demand in unexpected ways that break apart the models we have to day, led by people who might not check all of the boxes in traditional fields.

That includes the PhD itself and the education industry. Which is where Danny and I agree. The application of software to education has been a struggle because success requires understanding two disciplines, and he concludes that the way we learn will itself have to be broken down and reformed:

“We can’t wait until 25 years of school is complete and people graduate haggard at 40 before they can take a shot at some of these fascinating intersections. We need to build slipstreams to these lacuna where innovation hasn’t yet reached.”

GettyImages 925988314

Image via Getty Images / doyata

Edtech’s better future

Almost to prove Danny’s first point, some of the biggest companies in edtech today were founded by technical experts who were also university professors. Companies like Coursera are today raising their late-stage funding rounds on top of a pandemic-fueled boom for online higher learning.

But this generation of edtech unicorns already looks pretty different from anything that previous generations of education experts had imagined, as you can read an overview of from Natasha Mascarenhas on Extra Crunch. For example, Udemy was founded by a group of serial entrepreneurs, and they focused on practical skills from the start (long-time TechCrunch readers may recall our startup-focused CrunchU program with them circa 2013).

Of course, this generation of so-called MOOCs is widely seen as a limited success. In a column for Extra Crunch, Rish Joshi writes about the declining “graduation” rates that many show from students over the past decade. Instead, he sees a new wave of trends, including deeper gig-based expertise and automated niche learning, that will help anyone acquire more complex skills more quickly, at every stage of the education process. Here’s more, about the gig approach:

A potential gig economy for education created via small-group learning online would have a large impact on both the supply and demand sides of online education. Giving educators the ability to teach online from their own home opens up the opportunity to many more people around the world who may not have otherwise considered teaching, and this can greatly increase the supply of teachers worldwide. It also has the ability to mitigate the discrepancy that’s existed between quality of teaching in urban and rural areas by enabling students to access the same quality of teachers independent of their location.

Companies in this space like Outschool and Camp K12, are pre-college. But take a look around at everyone trying to teach data science, product management and other concepts that traditional industries need to incorporate to innovate more quickly, and you can see the solution that Danny hopes for starting to emerge. One day soon, you might be able to school up quickly on a new skill that you need to get a job — or a medical breakthrough.

For more on the latest in the space, be sure to check out Natasha’s second part of her survey with top edtech investors.

Planning your equity after an IPO

Do you think your unicorn employer is the next Amazon or Google? Are you ready to hold on to the stock of a potential winner through all of the ups and downs that happen to any company? If you haven’t already, consider diversifying sooner rather than later, writes startup financial advisor Peyton Carr in a series on the topic this week:

We consider any stock position or exposure greater than 10% of a portfolio to be a concentrated position. There is no hard number, but the appropriate level of concentration is dependent on several factors, such as your liquidity needs, overall portfolio value, the appetite for risk and the longer-term financial plan. However, above 10% and the returns and volatility of that single position can begin to dominate the portfolio, exposing you to high degrees of portfolio volatility.

The company “stock” in your portfolio often is only a fraction of your overall financial exposure to your company. Think about your other sources of possible exposure such as restricted stock, RSUs, options, employee stock purchase programs, 401k, other equity compensation plans, as well as your current and future salary stream tied to the company’s success. In most cases, the prudent path to achieving your financial goals involves a well-diversified portfolio.

A new TechCrunch newsletter: The Exchange

In addition to the popular Equity podcast and regular appearances across TechCrunch and Extra Crunch, my colleague Alex Wilhelm is launching a new newsletter called The Exchange. It’s his weekly summary of the week, based on his daily writing for Extra Crunch and TechCrunch about tech and startup finance. You can sign up for it here. As a taste of Alex’s work if you’re not familiar, in one article this week, he took a look at the explosion in the still-new area of no code software, compiling investment activity in a space that is poorly understand and coming away with this analysis:

From this we can tell that at the very minimum, Q1 2020 VC totals for no-code/low-code startups were north of $80 million, though the real figure is likely far higher. In Q2 we can see at least $140 million in money, just among rounds that I was able to dig up this morning.

That puts low-code/no-code startups on pace to raise around $500 million at the very least in 2020. The real number is larger, and can swell sharply depending on how expansive your definition of the space is. That means that the startup world isn’t waiting for venture dollars to make their vision come true. The capital is already flowing in great quantity.

The next question is whether the startup and larger software world can make the no-code services of the world easy enough that lots of folks are willing to train themselves. The more power and capability that can be offered in exchange for learning a new way of interacting with software will likely help determine how much adoption is had, and how soon.

Around TechCrunch

Early-bird savings for Disrupt 2020 ends next week

Watch the first TechCrunch Early Stage ‘Pitch Deck Teardown’

And don’t forget to nominate your favorite investor for The TechCrunch List

Across the week

TechCrunch

Don’t let VCs be the gatekeepers of your success

Go SPAC yourself

Nielsen is revamping the way it measures digital audiences

Taking on the perfect storm in cybersecurity

Four steps for drafting an ethical data practices blueprint

Extra Crunch

Ann Miura-Ko’s framework for building a startup

From farm to phone: A paradigm shift in grocery

All B2B startups are in the payments business

When choosing a tech stack, look before you leap

Building and investing in the ‘human needs economy’

#EquityPod

Speaking of Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Up top the crew this week was the regular contingent: Danny CrichtonNatasha Mascarenhas and myself. As a tiny programming note, we’re going back to posting some videos on YouTube in a few weeks, so make sure to peep the TechCrunch channel if that’s your jam.

And we did a special episode on the SPAC boom, if you are into financial arcana. For more on SPACs –> here.

The Equity crew tried something new this week, namely centering our main conversation around a theme that we’re keeping tabs on: The resilience of tech during the current pandemic-led recession.

Starting with the recent economic news, it’s surprising that tech’s layoffs have slowed to a crawl. And, as we’ve recently seen, there’s still plenty of money flowing into startups, even if there are some dips present on a year-over-year basis. Why are things still pretty good for startups, and pretty good for major tech companies? We have a few ideas, like the acceleration of the digital transformation (more here, and here), and software eating the world. The latter concept, of course, is related to the former.

After that it was time to go through some neat funding rounds from the week, including:

All that and I have a newsletter launching this weekend that if you read, you will automatically be 100% cooler. It’s called the TechCrunch Exchange, and you can snag it for free here.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: The TechCrunch List reveals investors who founders love to work with

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

We’re pleased to kick off this week’s newsletter by sharing an important new project: The TechCrunch List. It’s a database of investors who have shown a commitment to first checks and leading rounds from seed through growth, based on founder recommendations we’ve received as well as learnings from our own research.

Our goal is to quickly help founders talk to the investors who are serious about writing them checks when they need it most. You can filter by industry vertical, round size and location to find the best people for you. Today you’ll see 391 investors based on more than 1,200 recommendations across 23 main verticals. Since launch on Tuesday, we’ve received another 600 recommendations and counting fast, so we’ll be providing another big update next week.

My colleague Danny Crichton, who leads the project, has written up an FAQ for people who want to know more about the methodology, or how they might submit a recommendation. For Extra Crunch subscribers, he also put together a list of the 11 investors who have had the most positive recommendations, and an explainer about why certain investors earn great ‘founder NPS’ scores.

Now stop reading this for a minute and check it out.

Brad Feld

Image Credits: Dani Padgett / StrictlyVC

Brad Feld on how to influence your odds of success

Connie Loizos caught up with long-time VC Brad Feld of Foundry Group, who has a new book out about startup ecosystems. Some of it is theoretical, as you can read about in the full interview, but Feld connects his points to more tactical advice. Here’s a great example:

TC: Your new book talks about complex systems. How do founders balance the need to manage these complex systems with the fact that controlling these complex systems is sometimes out of their hands?

BF: The first step is getting rid of the notion that you can control the systems, and instead focus on what you can influence [because] in the context of what you can influence, that starts to become a place to focus where you put your energy.

An example of this would be in the current moment. If you have existing investors, and if you have not asked your existing investors directly how much money they have reserved for you for future financings and what you need to do to get that money from them, you’re not focusing on what you can influence.

The worst thing your investor can do is say, ‘I’m not going to tell you that.’ But if your investor is really on your side and wants to see you be successful, it’s likely your investor will say, ‘All right, well, you know . . .’ There might be some wishy-washy [talk] and [dollar] ranges and non-committal language, but you’ll at least have a frame of reference whether that’s zero dollars, a little bit of money, or a lot of money. And you can start to understand, ‘Well, what do we need to do given this moment?’

Edtech goes back to school

Natasha Mascarenhas surveyed eight leading edtech investors for Extra Crunch about the latest changes happening in the space, especially as its importance has grown during the pandemic. “Investors differed on which subcategories benefitted the most,” she writes, “but it’s clear that the pandemic didn’t lift up the entirety of the edtech space. One investor noted that the pandemic made them even less interested in ISAs, while other venture capitalists noted how valuable the financing instrument is now, more than ever before.” She also took a look at a flurry of acquisitions happening globally in the vertical.

(Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A pledge to support international students

The Trump administration backed down from forcing international students to leave the country if their courses went online-only this week, shortly after being sued by some leading universities and 17 state attorneys general. Following the push against most worker visas and other anti-immigration measures, everyone affected expects more problems. To that end, resident TechCrunch immigration legal expert Sophie Alcorn cofounded a new effort to support international students. Here’s more detail:

We proudly announce the Community for Global Innovation (CFGI), a movement centralizing how companies and individuals around the world can stand in solidarity with international students and the belief that everybody deserves a chance to succeed. CFGI is a constellation of top startups, VCs, professionals, nonprofits, international students and grads. We pledge to support international students, create awareness and effect change.

Through the platform, companies take the CFGI Pledge to support international students: ‘If you’re international, no problem. In our team, everybody has a chance.’ We also teamed up with Welcoming America, a leading U.S. nonprofit, accepting donations to make the U.S. more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents. We’re actively seeking the support of volunteers, corporate donors and community members such as international startup founders who know it’s time to share their stories.

An immersive chat future

Podcasting, social audio and virtual reality are combining into a potentially new trend, Lucas Matney writes for Extra Crunch this week. “As audio-centric platforms garner investor interest, virtual reality founders of old are trying to push 3D audio as the next evolution, presenting the tech in a way that looks entirely different from today’s voice chat platforms. Though some of these efforts have been in the works for a while, the fledgling platforms are a lot more interesting, as social efforts like Clubhouse take flight and investors continue to eat up audio startups.” Top early examples so far include High Fidelity and Teooh. 

Around TechCrunch

Ready, set, network! CrunchMatch is now open for Early Stage 2020

Everything you could possibly want to learn about fundraising will be covered at TC Early Stage

Marketing, PR and brand building, oh my! TechCrunch Early Stage goes down July 21 and 22

Here’s your chance to meet with Sequoia’s partners at TC Early Stage

Sign up for next week’s Pitchers & Pitches competition on 7/23

TechCrunch talks virtual events and event technology

Learn how to build a company that puts profits and users first, and VCs last, at Disrupt 2020

Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd is coming to Disrupt 2020

Emily Heyward will teach you how to make your brand awesome at TC Early Stage

Across the week

TechCrunch

US beat China on App Store downloads for first time since 2014, due to coronavirus impact

China Roundup: Tech giants take stance on Beijing’s data control in Hong Kong

Legal clouds gather over US cloud services, after CJEU ruling

India smartphone shipments slashed in half in Q2 2020

Equity Monday: India’s digital economy attracts ample attention, three funding rounds and earnings season

Extra Crunch

Extension rounds help some startups play offense during COVID-19

How Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Trivia Royale’ earned 2.5M downloads in 3 weeks

Investors are browsing for Chromium startups

As companies accelerate their digital transitions, employees detail a changed workplace

An unsurprising wave of video-focused startups is trying to make video calls better

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

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

This week was full of news of all sorts, but as we recorded, both Danny and Natasha “not Tash” Mascarenhas were still locked out of their Twitter accounts after a proletariat revolution on the social platform saw the ruling Blue Checkmark Class forced into silence. That’s not really what happened, but it sounds better than what actually went down at Big Social.

Anyway, Twitter accounts or not, the three of us gathered to parse through a wave of news:

It was a lovely time and there is a bit of show news. Namely that Equity is coming back to YouTube either this week or the next. So if you want to see us talk, soon you will be able to! Again!

Oh, and follow the show on Twitter. If you can, that is.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: The world is eating tech

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

You could almost hear the internet cracking apart this week as international businesses pulled away from Hong Kong and the US considered a ban on TikTok. Software can no longer eat the entire world like it had attempted last decade. Startups across tech-focused industries face a new reality, where local markets and efforts are more protected and supported by national governments. Every company now has a smaller total addressable market, whether or not it succeeds in it.

Facebook, for example, appears to be getting an influx of creators who are worried about losing TikTok audiences, as Connie Loizos investigated this week. This might mean more users, engagement and ultimately revenue for many consumer startups, and any other companies that rely on paid marketing through Facebook’s valuable channels. But it means fewer platforms to diversify to, in case you don’t want to rely on Facebook so much for your business.

As trade wars look more and more like cold wars, it also means that Facebook itself will have a more limited audience than it once hoped to offer its own advertisers. After deciding to reject requests from Hong Kong-based Chinese law enforcement, it seems to be on the path to getting blocked in Hong Kong like it is on the mainland. But as with other tech companies, it doesn’t really have a choice — the Chinese government has pushed through legal changes in the city that allow it to arrest anyone in the world if it claims they are organizing against it. Compliance with China would bring on government intervention in the US and beyond, among other reasons why doing so is a non-starter. 

This also explains why TikTok itself already pulled out of Hong Kong, despite being owned by mainland China-based Bytedance. The company is still reeling from getting banned in India last week and this maneuver is trying to the subsidiary look more independent. Given that China’s own laws allow its government to access and control private companies, expect many to find that an empty gesture.

Startups should plan for things to get harder in general. See: the next item below.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Student visas have become the next Trump immigration target

International students will not be allowed to stay enrolled at US universities that offer only remote classes this coming academic year, the Trump administration decided this past week. As Natasha Mascarenhas and Zack Whittaker explore, many universities are attempting a hybrid approach that tries to allow some in-person teaching without creating a community health problem.

Without this type of approach, many students could lose their visas. Here’s our resident immigration law expert, Sophie Alcorn, with more details on Extra Crunch:

International students have been allowed to take online classes during the spring and summer due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that will end this fall. The new order will force many international students at schools that are only offering remote online classes to find an “immigration plan B” or depart the U.S. before the fall term to avoid being deported.

At many top universities, international students make up more than 20% of the student body. According to NAFSA, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported or created 458,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. Apparently, the current administration is continuing to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to immigration.

Universities are scrambling as they struggle with this newfound untenable bind. Do they stay online only to keep their students safe and force their international students to leave their homes in this country? Or do they reopen to save their students from deportation, but put their communities’ health at risk?

For students, it means finding another school, scrambling to figure out a way to depart the States (when some home countries will not even allow them to return), or figuring out an “immigration plan B.”

Who knows how many startups will never exist because the right people didn’t happen to be at the right place at the right time together? What everyone does know is that remote-first is here to stay.

No Code goes global

A few tech trends seem unstoppable despite any geopolitics, and one seems to be the universal human goal of making enterprise software suck less. (Okay, nearly universal.) Alex Nichols and Jesse Wedler of CapitalG explain why now is the time for no code software and what the impact will bel, in a very popular article for Extra Crunch this week. Here’s their setup:

First, siloed cloud apps are sprawling out of control. As workflows span an increasing number of tools, they are arguably getting more manual. Business users have been forced to map workflows to the constraints of their software, but it should be the other way around. They need a way to combat this fragmentation with the power to build integrations, automations and applications that naturally align with their optimal workflows.

Second, architecturally, the ubiquity of cloud and APIs enable “modular” software that can be created, connected and deployed quickly at little cost composed of building blocks for specific functions (such as Stripe for payments or Plaid for data connectivity). Both third-party API services and legacy systems leveraging API gateways are dramatically simplifying connectivity. As a result, it’s easier than ever to build complex applications using pre-assembled building blocks. For example, a simple loan approval process could be built in minutes using third-party optical character recognition (a technology to convert images into structured data), connecting to credit bureaus and integrating with internal services all via APIs. This modularity of best-of-breed tools is a game changer for software productivity and a key enabler for no code.

Finally, business leaders are pushing CIOs to evolve their approach to software development to facilitate digital transformation. In prior generations, many CIOs believed that their businesses needed to develop and own the source code for all critical applications. Today, with IT teams severely understaffed and unable to keep up with business needs, CIOs are forced to find alternatives. Driven by the urgent business need and assuaged by the security and reliability of modern cloud architecture, more CIOs have begun considering no code alternatives, which allow source code to be built and hosted in proprietary platforms.

Photo: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Palantir has finally filed to go public

It’s 16 years old, worth $26 billion and widely used by private and public entities of all types around the world, but this employer of thousands is counted as a startup tech unicorn, because, well, it was one of the pioneers of growing big, raising bigger, and staying private longer. Aileen Lee even mentioned Palantir as one of the 39 examples that helped inspire the “unicorn” term back in 2013. Now the secretive and sometimes controversial data technology provider is finally going to have its big liquidity event — and is filing confidentially to IPO, which means the finances are still staying pretty secret.

Alex Wilhelm went ahead and pieced together its funding history for Extra Crunch ahead of the action, and concluded that “Palantir seems like the Platonic ideal of a unicorn. It’s older than you’d think, has a history of being hyped, its valuation has stretched far beyond the point where companies used to go public, and it appears to be only recently growing into its valuation.”

It also appears to be one of the unicorns that has seen a lot of upside lately. It has been in the headlines recently for cutting big-data deals with governments for pandemic work, on top of a long-standing relationship with the US military and other arms of the government. As with Lemonade, Accolade and a range of other IPOing tech companies that we have covered in recent weeks, it is presumably in a positive business cycle and primed to take advantage of an already receptive market.

(Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Meaningful change from BLM

In an investor survey for Extra Crunch this week, Megan Rose Dickey checked in with eight Black investors about what they are investing in, in the middle of what feels like a new focus on making the tech industry more representative of the country and the world. Here’s how Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital responded when Megan asked what meaningful change might come from the recent heightened attention on the Black Lives Matter movement.

I happen to be on the more optimistic side of things. I’m not at a hundred percent optimistic, but I’m close to that. I think that there’s an undeniable unflinching resolve right now. I think that if we were to go back to status quo, I would be incredibly surprised. I guess I would not be shocked, unfortunately, but I would be surprised. It would give me pause about the effectiveness of any of the work that we do if this moment fizzles out and doesn’t create change. I do think that there is going to be a shift. I can already feel it. I know that more people who are representative of this country are going to be writing checks, whether through being hired, or taken through the ranks, or starting their own funds, and our own funds. I think there’s more and more capital that’s going to flow to underrepresented founders. That alone, I think, will be a huge shift.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch support expands into Argentina, Brazil and Mexico

Five reasons to attend TC Early Stage online

Hear from James Alonso and Adam Zagaris how to draw up your first contracts at Early Stage

Hear how to manage your enterprise infrastructure from Sam Pullara at TechCrunch Early Stage

Kerry Washington is coming to Disrupt 2020

Amazon’s Alexa heads Toni Reid and Rohit Prasad are coming to Disrupt

Ade Ajao, Maryanna Saenko, Charles Hudson, Ulili Onovakpuri and Melissa Bradley are coming to Disrupt

Minted’s Mariam Naficy will join us at TechCrunch Early Stage

Across the week

TechCrunch

14 VCs discuss COVID-19 and London’s future as a tech hub

Societal upheaval during the COVID-19 pandemic underscores need for new AI data regulations

PC shipments rebound slightly following COVID-19-fueled decline

Here’s a list of tech companies that the SBA says took PPP money

Equity Monday: Uber-Postmates is announced, three funding rounds and narrative construction

Regulatory roadblocks are holding back Colombia’s tech and transportation industries

Extra Crunch

In pandemic era, entrepreneurs turn to SPACs, crowdfunding and direct listings

Four views: Is edtech changing how we learn?

VCs are cutting checks remotely, but deal volume could be slowing

GGV’s Jeff Richards: ‘There is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago’

Logistics are key as NYC startup prepares to reopen office

#EquityPod

From Alex:

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

We wound up having more to talk about than we had time for but we packed as much as we could into 34 minutes. So, climb aboard with DannyNatasha and myself for another episode of Equity.

Before we get into topics, a reminder that if you are signing up for Extra Crunch and want to save some money, the code “equity” is your friend. Alright, let’s get into it:

Whew! Past all that we had some fun, and, hopefully, were of some use. Hugs and chat Monday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: Tech unicorns look to IPOs as Lemonade, Accolade boom

Hundreds of tech-oriented startups worth a billion or more dollars had envisioned successful public offerings before the pandemic hit. But new tech listings slowed to nearly nothing this spring as companies have tried to adjust to the profound changes sweeping the world.

Today, more and more companies are back to their previous plans, with Lemonade and Accolade finding an enthusiastic public this week, following Agora’s pop last Friday, as Alex Wilhelm has been covering.

The first big tech IPO this week was in online insurance, the second in health, and despite both being in promising markets, the valuations are quite a bit higher than their business realities to date. Here’s more, from his analysis on Extra Crunch:

Lemonade is being valued at more than 15x the value of its annualized Q1 revenue despite not sporting the gross margins you might expect investors to demand for it to merit that SaaS valuation. And Accolade only expects to grow by about 20% in Q2 2020 compared to its year-ago results while probably losing more money.

But who cares? The IPO market is standing there with open arms today (there’s always another IPO cliché lurking).

The read of this is impossibly simple: However open we thought that the IPO market was before, it is even more welcoming. For companies on the sidelines, like Palantir, Airbnb, DoorDash and Asana, you have to wonder what they are waiting for. Sure, you can raise more private capital like Palantir and DoorDash have, but so what; if you want to defend your valuation, isn’t this the market that was hoped for?

He also takes a look at a few more companies getting ready to file, including banking software company nCino and GoHealth, an insurance portal that was bought by a private equity firm last year, as well as gaming company DoubleDown Interactive. The general trend seems to be that initial stock pricing has stayed more conservative than how public markets are feeling.

Startup survey shows remote is new normal already

“Early-stage startups are confident of re-opening their offices in the wake of the COVID-19 within the next six months,” writes Mike Butcher for TechCrunch this week. “But there will be changes.” Here’s more from our UK-based editor-at-large:

An exclusive survey compiled by Founders Forum, with TechCrunch, found 63% of those surveyed said they would only re-open in either 1-3 months or 3-6 months — even if the government advises [sic] that it is safe to do so before then. A minority have re-opened their offices, while 10% have closed their office permanently. The full survey results can be found here.

However, there will clearly be long-term impact on the model of office working, with a majority of those surveyed saying they would now move to either a flexible remote working model (some with permanent offices, some without), but only a small number plan a “normal” return to work. A very small number plan to go fully “remote.” Many cited the continuing benefits of face-to-face interaction when trying to build the team culture so crucial with early-stage companies.

Title insurance is getting the tech competition it deserves

A lot of people are thinking harder about homeownership as they wait out quarantines — but real estate is still an old-fashioned industry, layered with complexities and surprising costs that can keep a dream purchase out of reach. Title insurance is a great example. A one-time cost to protect buyers and sellers during the closing process, it can extend the purchase process by a month or two, in addition to potentially adding thousands of dollars in costs. But various new regulations and rulings have combined with the larger trends in SaaS to open up the market. Here’s more, in a detailed guest post for Extra Crunch from Ashley Paston of Bain Capital Ventures:

In a very short period of time, we’ve seen startups take advantage of this new, more competitive landscape by offering solutions to streamline the task of getting title insurance. Qualia, for example, offers an end-to-end platform that connects all parties involved in a real estate transaction, so title agents can manage and coordinate all aspects of the process in real time. San Francisco-based States Title, for example, uses a predictive underwriting engine that produces nearly instantaneous title assessment, dramatically reducing the cost and time required to issue a policy. Qualia and States Title are among several companies hoping to revolutionize title insurance and they reflect the two emerging meta-trends.

The first trend, enablement, consists of companies developing technology designed to integrate with incumbent real estate businesses… The second trend, disruption, consists of companies displacing incumbent real estate business altogether.

Image Credits: Black Innovation Alliance

Tech diversity stays in focus

The tech industry has talked about making its opportunities available to all for many years, and struggled to deliver. But more than a month after George Floyd was killed, this time is still feeling different. One example is 👁👄👁.fm, a viral sort of insidery prank from last weekend that a diverse small group of friends in tech created and turned into a successful grassroots fundraiser for racial justice organizations (it was not a VC fundraising stunt). “In one fell swoop,” veteran product leader Ravi Mehta wrote for TechCrunch, “the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked.”

Meanwhile, a group of Black startup founders and the Transparent Collective created a public spreadsheet to provide a comprehensive list of every VC who has backed a Black founder in the US, and the umbrella Black Innovation Alliance launched to help hundreds of related Black-focused tech and entrepreneurship organizations connect and support each other. Efforts like these, combined with a real generational willingness to address the structural problems, are what can make the difference finally.

Why AR has mostly failed (so far)

Augmented reality concepts may become a core part of how people live in the future, but the first wave of companies in the space have not fared well. Here’s why, from Lucas Matney on Extra Crunch:

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

Instead, he says success will come from nailing the use-cases first, and not messing around with complex developer platforms and expensive hardware.

Around TechCrunch

Hear Charles Hudson explain how to sell an idea (without a product) at Early Stage

Get your pitchdeck critiqued by Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg at Early Stage

Pioneering CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna is coming to Disrupt

One week only: Score 4th of July discounts on Disrupt 2020 passes

Sale: Save 25% on annual Extra Crunch membership

Extra Crunch is now available in Greece, Ireland and Portugal

Extra Crunch expands into Romania

Across the week

TechCrunch

Global app revenue jumps to $50B in the first half of 2020, in part due to COVID-19 impacts

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

Strap in — a virtual Tour de France is coming this weekend

US suspends export of sensitive tech to Hong Kong as China passes new national security law

India bans TikTok, dozens of other Chinese apps

Extra Crunch

Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

13 Boston-focused venture capitalists talk green shoots and startup recovery

How $20 billion health care behemoth Blue Shield of California sees startups

From napkin notes to term sheets: A chat with Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel

Where to open a game studio

Are virtual concerts here to stay?

#EquityPod

From Alex:

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

Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the show that got cut, and more. It’s fun!

Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this:

Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups Weekly: US visa freeze is latest reason to build remote-first

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

While the US tech industry relentlessly tries to do business with the rest of the world, this week it became further embroiled in national politics. High-skill immigration visas have been suspended until the end of the year by the Trump administration, precluding thousands of present and future startup employees and founders from coming to the US and building companies here.

Instead, the suspension is another accelerant to the global remote work trend that had already been a thing for many of us this decade, that has just been pushed to the mainstream because of the pandemic. For anyone trying to find great people to hire, the next funding check, or new markets, virtual solutions are often the only solutions available today.

Our resident immigration law expert, Sophie Alcorn, has been covering the issue in-depth this week, including an explainer about the crucial role of immigration in the economy for TechCrunch, and for Extra Crunch, an overview of what you can do if you’re affected. For subscribers, she also wrote about the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Trump’s termination of DACA.

On a personal note, our global editorial staff is looking forward to resuming our global events schedule as soon as possible regardless of these national political issues. We’re here for the startup world. In the meantime, here’s Alex Ames on how we’re connecting virtual Disrupt attendees this year.

New York tech after the pandemic

The big industries and big-city amenities that have made New York City what it is are going to help power it forward even as more people and jobs appear to be heading away from city centers. At least that’s my takeaway from reading the 11 investors who Anthony Ha talked to this week in an Extra Crunch survey about the future of the startup hub. First, even if you can work from anywhere, millions of people will prefer that place to be New York — with the big-city housing supply, networking opportunities and amenities to attract people like before. Second, many key industries like finance, real estate, enterprise software, health care, media and other consumer products are not dying but being reinvented, and appear to be maintaining their centers in the city. Here’s Alexa von Tobel of Inspired Capital:

I’ve seen NYC grow into the powerful startup hub it’s become over the last decade, and I think that momentum will continue. Now that we’ve learned high productivity is indeed possible remotely, we expect to see companies maintain some element of a remote workforce within their broad hiring plans. But for startups in their earliest stages, I think there’s still a power to sitting side by side as you build a business. When founders are making their first hires and inking their first deals, NYC remains an incredible place to do that.

Some of those industry reinventions are more exciting than others. In a separate survey, Anthony talked to 5 investors who have tended to focus on advertising and marketing tech… the good news is that advertising and marketing costs are dropping and tech-driven efficiency is improving for the world. For founders in the space, though, the challenges have only grown as the pandemic has forced more ad budget cuts on top of shifts to the largest platforms. As John Elton of Greycroft put it:

Only the next technology breakthrough will provide fertile ground for the next wave of innovation, just as mobile and internet breakthroughs gave rise to today’s giants. Perhaps machine learning is that type of breakthrough, so we are looking at companies that use machine learning to dramatically improve what is possible in the space. The issue there is the scaled players are also very good at machine learning, so it may not be a technology that provides the same opportunity as prior disruptions.

TIm O’Reilly

O’Reilly talks investing beyond the VC financial bubble

Tim O’Reilly has been going a different route from much of Silicon Valley in recent years. While his publishing company, series of conferences, essays and investments have helped to shape the modern internet for decades, he says that venture capital has gone wrong. Here’s more from an interview on with Connie Loizos on TechCrunch this week:

[I]’ve been really disillusioned with Silicon Valley investing for a long time. It reminds me of Wall Street going up to 2008. The idea was, ‘As long as someone wants to buy this [collateralized debt obligation], we’re good.’ Nobody is thinking about: Is this a good product? So many things that what VCs have created are really financial instruments like those CDOs. They aren’t really thinking about whether this is a company that could survive on revenue from its customers. Deals are designed entirely around an exit. As long as you can get some sucker to take them, [you’re good]. So many acquisitions fail, for example, but the VCs are happy because — guess what? — they got their exit.

His firm, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, has instead been focused in recent years on funding founders who are creating a product that is valued by customers and generates sustainable cash flow, on terms that incentivize organic growth.

 

They wrote your first check

Last week we launched a new effort to highlight investors who were the first to back your big and (increasingly) successful idea. It’s gotten a great response so far. From Danny Crichton:

Well, the TechCrunch community came through, since in just a few days, we’ve already received more than 500 proposals from founders recommending VCs who wrote their first checks and who have been particularly helpful in fundraising and getting a round closed.

If you haven’t submitted a recommendation, please help us using the form linked here.

The short survey takes five minutes, and could save founders dozens of hours armed with the right intel. Our editorial team is carefully processing these submissions to ensure their veracity and accuracy, and the more data points we have, the better the List can be for founders.

Check out Danny Crichton’s full post on TechCrunch for answers to questions that we’ve gotten frequently so far.

Across the week

TechCrunch:

A look at tech salaries and how they could change as more employees go remote

Apple will soon let developers challenge App Store rules

China’s GPS competitor is now fully launched

GDPR’s two-year review flags lack of ‘vigorous’ enforcement

The Exchange: IPO season, self-driving misfires and a fintech letdown

Extra Crunch:

What went wrong with Quibi?

Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees?

4 enterprise developer trends that will shape 2021

Ideas for a post-COVID-19 workplace

Plaid’s Zach Perret: ‘Every company is a fintech company’

Volcker Rule reforms expand options for raising VC funds

Around TechCrunch

Register for next week’s Pitches & Pitchers session

Join GGV’s Hans Tung and Jeff Richards for a live Q&A: June 30 at 3:30 pm EDT/12:30 pm PDT

Airtable’s Howie Liu to join us at Disrupt 2020

Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan will speak at Disrupt 2020

How to supercharge your virtual networking at Disrupt 2020

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

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

This week was a bit feisty, but that’s only because Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas and I were all in pretty good spirits. It would have been hard to not be, given how much good stuff there was to chew over.

We kicked off with two funding rounds from companies that had received a headwind from COVID-19:

Those two rounds, however, represented just one side of the COVID coin. There were also companies busy riding a COVID-tailwind to the tune of new funds:

But we had room for one more story. So, we talked a bit about Robinhood, its business model and the recent suicide of one of its users. It’s an awful moment for the family of the human we lost, but also a good moment for Robinhood to batten the hatches a bit on how its service works.

How far the company will go, however, in limiting access to certain financial tooling, will be interesting to see. The company generates lots of revenue from its order-flow business, and options are a key part of those incomes. Robinhood is therefore balancing the need to protect its users and make money from their actions. How they thread this needle will be quite interesting.

All that and we had a lot of fun. Thanks for tuning in, and follow the show on Twitter!

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

Startups Weekly: Which investor wrote the first check?

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

Which startups investors are actually first to backing the best companies? If you know this information before fundraising, you can avoid pitching investors who were always going to tell you that you’re “too early” anyway. The problem is that everyone claims credit for success, and by the time you pick through databases, investor sites, blogs, tweets and news clippings, you have no real idea who made what call when.

That’s why our solution is to just ask founders about who really made it happen. Our new product, The TechCrunch List, will feature the investors who wrote the first checks, to help any founder find the help they need when they need it. Here’s more, from Arman Tabatabai and Danny Crichton:

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be collecting data around which individual investors are actually willing to write the proverbial “first check” into a startup’s fundraising round and help catalyze deals for founders — whether it be seed, Series A or otherwise (i.e. out of your Series A investors, the first person who was willing to write the check and get the ball rolling with other investors). Once we’ve collected, cleaned and analyzed the data, we’ll publish lists of the most recommended “first check” investors across different verticals, investment stages and geographies, so founders can see which investors are potentially the best fit for their company….

In all, The TechCrunch List will publish the most recommended “first check” writers across 22 different categories, ranging from D2C & e-commerce brands to space, and everything in between. Through some data analysis around total investments in each space, we believe our 22 categories should cover the entirety or majority of the venture activity today.

To make this project a success and create a useful resource for founders, we need your help. We want to hear from company builders and we want to hear from them directly. We will be collecting endorsements submitted by founders through the form linked here.

(Photo by Steven Damron used under Creative Commons).

Valley dealflow has continued through the pandemic

Despite much discussion about investors pulling back en masse from startup investing, a new survey out from Silicon Valley tech law firm Fenwick & West about activity in the region over April says that valuations went up, markdown rounds did not grow as a percentage of deals, and the overall pace of deals actually increased. The catch, Connie Loizos writes for TechCrunch, is that much of this was due to later-stage rounds, and of course, it is generalized across industries that have been variously propelled or pummeled by the pandemic.

Alex Wilhelm then looks at a couple additional reports for Extra Crunch, from Docsend and NFX. They appear to show ongoing investor activity growth since April, as well as growing founder optimism — but early stage did in fact appear to be more turbulent, as, ahem, one might expect if one has experience in early-stage fundraising. He separately notes that the latest tracking data sources appear to show a decline in startup layoffs. Both are, by the way, written as part of The Exchange, his new daily column about the latest trends in the startup world for EC subscribers (use code EXCHANGE to get 25% off a subscription).

Image Credits: Klaud Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Beyond Valley dealflow (and its problems)

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866 to mark the end of slavery after the American Civil War. But this year, it is being taken up by tech companies as an official holiday to help show their concern for structural discrimination in the wake of the George Floyd killing and ensuing global protests. What does it really mean though? Here’s Megan Rose Dickey for TechCrunch:

Recognition of such a historic day is good. But the way these companies are publicly announcing their plans, seeking press as they do, suggests their need for some affirmative pat on the back. It’s perfectly acceptable to do the right thing and not get credit for it. It shows humility. It shows that a company is more interested in doing right by its workers than it is in saving face….

Instead, as Hustle Crew founder Abadesi Osunsade has said, tech companies need to go beyond one-off actions and form habits around racial justice work. Forming habits around hiring Black people, promoting Black employees, paying Black employees fairly, funding Black founders and making room for Black people in leadership positions is what will lead to concrete change in this industry.

Meanwhile, given the ongoing issues in fundraising, Delali Dzirasa of Fearless writes about other resources Black entrepreneurs can use to get their companies off the ground, including equity crowdfunding, mentor programs, 8(a) programs, SBA resources, and your local commercial banker.

Image Credits: PipeCandy

Online winners and also-rans during the pandemic

Two marketing experts shared fresh data on what categories are winning and losing during the pandemic for Extra Crunch this week, perhaps revealing where some of the founder and investor enthusiasm is coming from? First, here’s Ethan Smith of Graphite, who provides an overview of how money is being spent online during the pandemic using data from Branch through mid-May:

The good news for vendors overall is that people are still shopping online, but they’re buying different things and in different volumes than they used to. Kid/pet-oriented mobile activity and associated purchases have skyrocketed. We’ve also seen spikes in the purchase of activewear, fashion items, shoes and arts and crafts items, as people wait out the lockdown and prepare for what they hope will be a summer of freedom.

To dig into the direct-to-consumer category in more detail, here’s Ashwin Ramasamy of PipeCandy, who uses a mix of data sources to look at subcategory trends versus what the year might have looked like without a pandemic:

Kids, cookware and kitchen tools, apparel, fine jewelry, fashion, women’s health, mattresses, furniture and skincare actually deviated negatively from the forecast. This is not to say that these categories declined. We are actually saying that these categories didn’t keep up with the growth trends they orchestrated in 2019. That said, the devil is in the details. For instance, within furniture, there is a category of D2C brands that sell shelves and office furniture. Consumers did invest in them heavily, presumably to allow participants in the Zoom call to absorb more the titles of the books stacked in those shelves than from the calls themselves. Wine/spirits, grocery, fitness, baby care, pets and nutraceuticals did better than anticipated. Basically, anything that helped numb the reality (alcohol), sweeten the reality (food), distract from the reality (baby care and pets), survive the reality (fitness) or hallucinate an alternative reality (nutraceuticals) did well. I will leave you with another interesting conclusion we arrived at, through further research that is currently underway: The spotlight category in e-commerce is not direct to consumer — it is the mid-market and large pure-play e-commerce companies. It is one segment where the compounded quarterly growth rate of active companies is better than the 2019 average.

Around TechCrunch

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Extra Crunch:

What’s next for space tech? 9 VCs look to the future

How Liberty Mutual shifted 44,000 workers from office to home

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra says recession is the ‘perfect time’ to be aggressive for well-capitalized startups

Investors based in San Francisco? That’s so 2019

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

4 months into lockdown, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz sees ‘exciting signs of recovery’

#EquityPod

From Alex:

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

Your humble Equity team is pretty tired but in good spirits, as there was a lot to talk about this week…

  • Epic Games is looking to raise a huge stack of cash (BloombergVentureBeat) at a new, higher valuation. We were curious about how its lower-cut store could help it gain inroads with developers big and small. That part of the chat, the take-rate of the Fortnite parent company on the work of others was very cogent to the other main topic of the day:
  • Apple vs. DHH. So Hey launched this week, and the new spin on email quickly overshadowed its product launch by getting into a spat with Apple about whether it needs to add the ability to sign up for the paid service on iOS, thus giving Apple a cut of its revenue. DHH and crew do not agree. Apple is under fire for anti-competitive practices at home and abroad — of varying intensity, and from different sources — making this all the more spicy.
  • Upgrade raises $40 million for its credit-focused neobank.
  • Degreed raises $32 million for its upskilling platform.
  • And, at the end, our take on the current health of the startup market. There have been a sheaf of reports lately about what is going on in startup land. We gave our take.

And that’s that. Have a lovely weekend and catch up on some sleep.

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

Startups Weekly: A Silicon Valley for everyone

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

Many in the tech industry saw the threat of the novel coronavirus early and reacted correctly. Fewer have seemed prepared for its aftereffects, like the outflow of talented employees from very pricey office real estate in expensive and troubled cities like San Francisco.

And few indeed have seemed prepared for the Black Lives Matter protests that have followed the death of George Floyd. This was maybe the easiest to see coming, though, given how visible the structural racism is in cities up and down the main corridors of Silicon Valley.

Today, the combination of politics, the pandemic and the protests feels almost like a market crash for the industry (except many revenues keep going up and to the right). Most every company is now fundamentally reconsidering where it will be located and who it will be hiring — no matter how well it is doing otherwise.

Some, like Google and Thumbtack, have been caught in the awkward position of scaling back diversity efforts as part of pandemic cuts right before making statements in support of the protesters, as Megan Rose Dickey covered on TechCrunch this week. But it is also the pandemic helping to create the focus, as Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital tells her:

It is like the world and the country has a front-row seat to what Black people have to witness, take in, and feel all the time. And it was before they were seeing some of it, but they were seeing it kind of protected by us. We were kind of shielding them from some of it… It’s like a VR headset that the country is forced to be in because of COVID. It’s just in their face.

This also putting new scrutiny on how tech is used in policing today. It is renewing questions around who gets to be a VC and who gets funding right when the industry is under new pressure to deliver. It is highlighting solutions that companies can make internally, like this list from BLCK VC on Extra Crunch.

As with police reforms currently in the national debate, some of the most promising solutions are local. Property tax reform, pro-housing activism and sustainable funding for homelessness services are direct ways for the tech industry to address the long history of discrimination where the modern tech industry began, Catherine Bracy of TechEquity writes for TechCrunch. These changes are also what many think would make the Bay Area a more livable place for everyone, including any startup and any tech employee at any tech company (see: How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists).

Something to think about as we move on to our next topic — the ongoing wave of tech departures from SF.

Where will VCs follow founders to now?

In this week’s staff survey, we revisit the remote-first dislocation of the tech industry’s core hubs. Danny Crichton observes some of the places that VCs have been leaving town for, and thinks it means bigger changes are underway:

“Are VCs leaving San Francisco? Based on everything I have heard: yes. They are leaving for Napa, leaving for Tahoe, and otherwise heading out to wherever gorgeous outdoor beauty exists in California. That bodes ill for San Francisco’s (and really, South Park’s) future as the oasis of VC.

But the centripetal forces are strong. VCs will congregate again somewhere else, because they continue to have that same need for market intelligence that they have always had. The new, new place might not be San Francisco, but I would be shocked just given the human migration pattern underway that it isn’t in some outlying part of the Bay Area.

And then he says this:

As for VCs — if the new central node is a bar in Napa and that’s the new “place to be” — that could be relatively more permanent. Yet ultimately, VCs follow the founders even if it takes time for them to recognize the new balance of power. It took years for most VCs to recognize that founders didn’t want to work in South Bay, but now nearly every venture firm of note has an office in San Francisco. Where the founders go, the VCs will follow. If that continues to be SF, its future as a startup hub will continue after a brief hiatus.

It’s true that another outlying farming community in the region once became a startup hub, but that one had a major research university next door, and at the time a lot of cheap housing if you were allowed access to it. But Napa cannot be the next Palo Alto because it is fully formed today as a glorified retirement community, Danny.

I’m already on the record for saying that college towns in general are going to become more prominent in the tech world, between ongoing funding for innovative tech work and ongoing desirability for anyone moving from the big cities. But I’m going to add a side bet that cities will come back into fashion with the sorts of startup founders that VCs would like to back. As Exhibit A, I’d like to present Jack Dorsey, who started a courier dispatch in Oakland in 2000, and studied fashion and massage therapy during the aftermath of the dot-com bubble. His success with Twitter a few years later in San Francisco inspired many founders to move as well.

Creative people like him are drawn to the big, creative environments that cities can offer, regardless of what the business establishment thinks. If the public and private sectors can learn from the many mistakes of recent decades (see last item) who knows, maybe we’ll see a more equal and resilient sort of boom emerge in tech’s current core.

Insurance provider Lemonade files for IPO with that refreshing common-stock flavor

There are probably some amazing puns to be made here but it has been a long week, and the numbers speak for themselves. Lemonade sells insurance to renters and homeowners online, and managed to reach a private valuation of $3.5 billion before filing to go public on Monday — with the common stockholders still comprising the majority of the cap table.

Danny crunched the numbers from the S-1 on Extra Crunch to generate the table, included, that illustrates this rather unusual breakdown. Usually, as you almost certainly know already, the investors own well over half by the time of a good liquidity event. “So what was the magic with Lemonade?” he ponders. “One piece of the puzzle is that company founder Daniel Schreiber was a multi-time operator, having previously built Powermat Technologies as the company’s president. The other piece is that Lemonade is built in the insurance market, which can be carefully modeled financially and gives investors a rare repeatable business model to evaluate.”

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Adapting enterprise product roadmaps to the pandemic

Our investor surveys for Extra Crunch this week covered the space industry’s startup opportunities, and looked at how enterprise investors are assessing the impact of the pandemic. Here’s Theresia Gouw of Acrew Capital, explaining how two of their portfolio companies have refocused in recent months:

A common theme we found when joining our founders for these strategy sessions was that many pulled forward and prioritized mid- to long-term projects where the product features might better fit the needs of their customers during these times. One such example in our portfolio is Petabyte’s (whose product is called Rhapsody) accelerated development of its software capabilities that enable veterinarians to provide telehealth services. Rhapsody has also incorporated key features that enable a contactless experience when telehealth isn’t sufficient. These include functionality that enables customers to check-in (virtual waiting room), sign documents, and make payments from the comfort and safety of their car when bringing their pet (the patient!) to the vet for an in-person check-up.

Another such example would be PredictHQ, which provides demand intelligence to enterprises in travel, hospitality, logistics, CPG, and retail, all sectors who saw significant change (either positive or negative) in the demand for their products and services. PredictHQ has the most robust global dataset on real-world events. Pandemics and all the ensuing restrictions and, then, loosening of restrictions fall within the category of real-world events. The company, which also has multiple global offices, was able to incorporate the dynamic COVID government responses on a hyperlocal basis, by geography, and equip its customers (e.g., Domino’s, Qantas, and First Data) with up to date insights that would help with demand planning and forecasting as well as understanding staffing needs.

Around TechCrunch

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Extra Crunch

TechCrunch’s top 10 picks from Techstars’ May virtual demo days
Software’s meteoric rise: Have VCs gone too far?
Recession-proof your software engineering career
The complicated calculus of taking Facebook’s venture money
The pace of startup layoffs may be slowing down

#EquityPod

From Alex:

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

After a pretty busy week on the show we’re here with our regular Friday episode, which means lots of venture rounds and new venture capital funds to dig into. Thankfully we had our full contingent on hand: Danny “Well, you see” CrichtonNatasha “Talk to me post-pandemic” MascarenhasAlex “Very shouty” Wilhelm and, behind the scenes, Chris “The Dad” Gates.

Make sure to check out our IPO-focused Equity Shot from earlier this week if you haven’t yet, and let’s get into today’s topics:

  • Instacart raises $225 million. This round, not unexpected, values the on-demand grocery delivery startup at $13.7 billion — a huge sum, and one that should make it harder for the well-known company to sell itself to anyone but the public markets. Regardless, COVID-19 gave this company a huge updraft, and it capitalized on it.
  • Pando raises $8.5 million. We often cover rounds on Equity that are a little obvious. SaaS, that sort of thing. Pando is not that. Instead, it’s a company that wants to let small groups of individual pool their upside and allow for more equal outcomes in an economy that rewards outsized success.
  • Ethena raises $2 million. Anti-harassment software is about as much fun as the dentist today, but perhaps that doesn’t have to be the case. Natasha talked us through the company, and its pricing. I’m pretty bullish on Ethena, frankly. Homebrew, Village Global and GSV took part in the financing event.
  • Vendr raises $4 millionVendr wants to help companies cut their SaaS bills, through its own SaaS-esque product. I tried to explain this, but may have butchered it a bit. It’s cool, I promise.
  • Facebook is getting into the CVC game. This should not be a surprise, but we were also not sure who was going to want Facebook money.
  • And, finally, Collab Capital is raising a $50 million fund to invest in Black founders. Per our reporting, the company is on track to close on $10 million in August. How fast the fund can close its full target is something we’re going to keep an eye on, considering it might get a lot harder a lot sooner. 

And that is that; thanks for lending us your ears.

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

Startups Weekly: The George Floyd protests come home to the tech industry

The tech industry has generally wished that structural discrimination would go away, while pretending that it already has. But technology can be used by anyone for anything. And so, the world has watched video after video of police brutality against Black people in a real-time stream that plays through the closing days of quarantine, culminating in the death of George Floyd and ongoing protests. As employees have left their remote offices to hit the streets, even executives at the largest tech companies —who would usually avoid such complications — have expressed their support officially, online.

What can we expect to change now? After all, diversity and inclusion programs have been getting cut during the pandemic, and stats on employee diversity and VC partner/portfolio demographics have not seemed to be improving quickly over the past decade, at least in aggregate.

First up, a group of Black tech leaders in the Bay Area, including TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey, has put forward a widely-signed petition that specifies five goals including local support and accountability, and commitment to hiring and investing in Black employees and founders.

On the ground in the startup world, a considerable range of investors say they are setting aside dedicated time and resources for Black founders.

Specific proposals for changes to the status quo strike at the heart of of tech as we know it.

To address existing systemic bias, algorithmic and otherwise, contributor Will Walker writes that tech companies like Amazon, Yelp and Grubhub should find ways to feature and favor Black-owned businesses — even if that means re-writing the recommendation algorithms.

And to address systemic bias in who gets funding, Connie Loizos writes that legislation could be the best answer:

Consider that already, most VCs today sign away their rights to invest in firearms or alcohol or tobacco when managing capital on behalf of the pension funds, universities and hospital systems that fund them. What if they also had to agree to invest a certain percentage of that capital to founding teams with members from underrepresented groups? We aren’t talking about targets anymore, but actual mandates. Put another way, rather than wait for venture firms to organically develop into less homogeneous organizations — or to invest in fewer founders who share their gender and race and educational background — alter their limited partner agreements.

Perhaps tech leaders are responding so strongly today because they realize what’s at stake for them if change does not happen faster?

GettyImages 1168618863

The future of work, according to the people trying to invest in it

Meanwhile, the very nature of work as we know it is being re-evaluated. Megan caught up with top investors in a very popular investor survey for Extra Crunch this week, to better understand the problems and solutions. Here’s what Ann Muira-Ko of Floodgate Capital thinks will create unicorns, as a sample:

  • How do you enable solopreneurs to build businesses that are fully tech-enabled? We think of this as the ironman suit for the solopreneur. What financial products and software products can solopreneurs use to provide consumers or their customers with the tech-enabled experiences they have come to expect?
  • How does reputation follow someone? A resume or LinkedIn profile measures where you’ve worked and for how long. With people working more jobs at varied locales, measuring expertise will become a new challenge.
  • How does an organization maintain knowledge? If a company is reliant on its people to share its history and knowledge base, how can that be disseminated without relying on internal experts (who are on the decline)?
  • How should productivity tools (calendars & communication) and enterprise systems (CRM, HR, Finance, etc.) adapt to a multi-modal (work from anywhere) work environment? HR is perhaps the most out-of-date, but every tool will require better integration.

If you’re more interested in the cybersecurity aspects of remote work, you will want to check out security editor Zack Whittaker’s set of investor surveys this week, including this industry overview and this pandemic-focused one.

Data shows investors are in fact busy looking for deals

Are VCs actually open for business during the pandemic? Docsend, a key inside data source, has a new report out this week that shows investor interest has boomed in April. Here’s CEO Russ Heddleston on TechCrunch, talking about the activity on its document management platform:

After the initial decline in March, founders and VCs both bounced back fairly quickly. In fact, the next week VC interest increased 10% while the number of Founder Links Created increased by 12%. However, for the following few weeks the number of links created by founders either stayed flat or dropped. But that isn’t the case for VCs. Demand for pitch decks rose steadily all the way through the week of April 20th, which was 25% up year-over-year. In fact, seven of the top 10 best days for Pitch Deck Interest in 2020 were in the month of April.

The fundraising inactivity has been on the part of the founders! Meanwhile, in a separate article for Extra Crunch, he shares that investors are spreading themselves broadly.

In the recent weeks, as we’ve had higher than average supply and demand, we’ve watched as the average time spent reviewing a deal has declined. In fact, we’re at nearly a two-year low. The only other period when time spent dropped below where it is now was in early 2018 (which not coincidentally was also when demand was at its highest). Twice in 2018 we saw time spent go below three minutes and we’re currently at 3 minutes and 7 seconds.

How a growth marketer helped his high school brother win at TikTok

In a fascinating oral history of sorts for Extra Crunch, Adam Guild explains how he helped his young brother Topper get more than 10 million followers in under five months. Here’s a free excerpt:

At first, figuring out which content would go viral seemed random. There was no correlation between likes, comments, shares or engagement rate.

What made the difference in his successful content? Topper needed to find out to maximize growth, so he went through his TikTok analytics insights and noticed a trend: his most popular videos weren’t the ones with the highest engagement rates. They were the ones with the highest average view durations.

“I wanted to test if this guess was right,” said Topper, “so I posted a few videos with a longer length and teased people in the captions to watch until the end.”

It worked; his videos started getting more views, but it wasn’t a perfect correlation. Some videos with high view durations weren’t taking off.

When Topper asked me for advice, I suggested that the key metric to nail was actually average session duration. That’s what YouTube optimizes for, so it would make sense that TikTok would do the same. This metric measures how long people actually stay on the platform — not on the video — and it can be increased by single videos.

He posted another video to test: one that encouraged viewers to rewatch repeatedly because it had a cliffhanger ending — Topper poured hundreds of Mentos into a massive container of Coke before cutting out the ending.

That video was his most viewed yet, scoring more than 175,000,000 views. He decided to use that lesson in future videos by creating content that helped get viewers addicted to TikTok while also being fun to watch.

Around TechCrunch

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LinkedIn introduces new retargeting tools

The coronavirus has hastened the post-human era

Zynga acquires Turkey’s Peak Games for $1.8B, after buying its card games studio for $100M in 2017

Huawei’s terrible week

Extra Crunch:

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The IPO window is open (again)

Unpacking ZoomInfo’s IPO as the firm starts to trade

SaaS earnings rise as pandemic pushes companies more rapidly to the cloud

What grocery startup Weee! learned from China’s tech giants

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

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

This week, however, the Equity crew (DannyNatashaChris, and Alex) agreed it felt silly to drum up false enthusiasm for funding rounds and startups. Instead, we talked about a more critical topic: systemic racism in the United States. Venture firms and tech executives across the country are pledging to be better following the brutal murder of George Floyd and police brutality.

Better is long overdue.

What follows are the resources we mentioned — and a few more — on the show itself. We’ll be back. Now is the time for sustained momentum and change.

Donations

How to be a better ally

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