Solve the ‘dead equity’ problem with a longer founder vesting schedule

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

The four-year vesting schedule that the typical startup uses today is a problem waiting to happen. If one founder ends up quitting a year or two before the last cliff, they still own a large share of the cap table through many rounds to come. The departing founder might consider that fair, but the remaining founder(s) are the ones adding on the additional value — and resentment is not the only issue.

“The opportunity cost of dead equity is talent and capital,” Jake Jolis of Matrix Partners explains in a guest post for us this week. “Compensating talent and raising capital are the (only) two things you can use your startup’s equity for, and you need to do both in order for your company to grow large. If you want to build a big business, the road ahead is still long and windy, and you’re going to need every bit of help you can get. If your competitors don’t have dead equity you’re literally competing with a handicap.”

Instead, he argues that founders who are just starting out should consider doubling the vesting schedule to eight years or so. In one example he gives, a founder who leaves after two and a half years on a four-year plan could end up with 22% of the company even after a big new funding round, the creation of an employee stock option pool, and additional shares set aside for a replacement cofounder-level hire. On an eight-year plan, that would be only 11%, and there would be a lot more remaining to entice new cofounders.

Example cap table with eight-year cofounder vesting.

The full article is on Extra Crunch, but I’m including more key parts here given the broad value:

Given the risks still ahead of the business, this level of compensation is often much more fair from a value-creation standpoint. With less dead equity on the cap table, the startup is still attractive in the eyes of VCs and well-positioned to attract a strong co-founder replacement to take the company forward. The alternative can cripple the company, and even co-founder B won’t be happy owning a larger percent of zero. While it’s better to do it when you start the company, a co-founder unit can elongate their vesting later on as well. The main requirement is that all the co-founders believe it’s in their best interest and agree to it. Most repeat founders I’ve talked to agree that four years is too short. Personally, if I started another company, I’d pick something like eight. You definitely don’t need to. You might decide four or six is better for your co-founder unit and your company.

One final thought, from my startup cofounder years. The departing cofounder should still want to see the company succeed as big as possible to maximize the value of their own shares. On the steep slope between failure and success in this business, vesting longer is a powerful way to help the company will deliver the most back to them after the hard work of the early days.

Image Credits: FirstMark

Why one successful early-stage VC firm is getting into SPACs now

SPACs are an exciting development for any type of investor, public or private, Amish Jani of FirstMark Capital tells Connie Loizos. Indeed, his firm has historically focused on writing early-stage checks, so at first it is a bit jarring to see the FirstMark Horizon Acquisition SPAC raise $360 million and head out looking for the right unicorn. But he explains it all quite well an extensive interview this week:

TC: Why SPACs right now? Is it fair to say it’s a shortcut to a hot public market, in a time when no one quite knows when the markets could shift?

AJ: There are a couple of different threads that are coming together. I think the first one is the possibility that [SPACs] work, and really well. [Our portfolio company] DraftKings  [reverse-merged into a SPAC] and did a [private investment in a public equity deal]; it was a fairly complicated transaction and they used this to go public, and the stock has done incredibly well.

In parallel, [privately held companies] over the last five or six years could raise large sums of capital, and that was pushing out the timeline [to going public] fairly substantially. [Now there are] tens of billions of dollars in value sitting in the private markets and [at the same time] an opportunity to go public and build trust with public shareholders and leverage the early tailwinds of growth.

He goes on to explain why public markets are likely to stay hot for the right SPACs far into the future.

AJ: I think a bit of a misconception is this idea that most investors in the public markets want to be hot money or fast money. There are a lot of investors that are interested in being part of a company’s journey and who’ve been frustrated because they’ve been frozen out of being able to access these companies as they’ve stayed private longer. So our investors are some of are our [limited partners], but the vast majority are long-only funds, alternative investment managers and people who are really excited about technology as a long-term disrupter and want to be aligned with this next generation of iconic companies.

Check out the whole thing on TechCrunch.

Peter Reinhardt SegmentDSC00311

SaaS continues to boom with Databricks funding, Segment acquisition

Maybe Segment would have gone public sometime soon, but instead Twilio has scooped it up for $3.2 billion this week. The popular data management tool will now be a part of Twilio’s ever-expanding suite of customer communication products. Perhaps it’s another sign of a consolidation phase taking hold in the sector, after a Pre-Cambrian explosion of SaaS startups over the last decade? Alex Wilhelm dug into the financials of the deal for Extra Crunch and came away thinking that the deal was not too expensive — in fact he thinks Segment may have been able to hold out for a little more, especially considering the multiplication of Twilio’s stock price this year.

Databricks, meanwhile, has evolved from an open-source data analytics platform that struggled to make revenues to a run rate of $350 million. Per an interview that Alex did for EC with chief executive Ali Ghodsi, the factors in this growth included a shift to focus on more proprietary code, big customers and sophisticated features. It’s now aiming for an IPO next year.

And what about that IPO market, which was a bit quieter this week? Alex gives a letter grade to each of the 18 most notable tech companies that have gone public this year, and observes that most them are continuing to stay in positive territory from their initial prices.

Image Credits: Brent Franson for Paystack

Nigeria startup scene gets watershed exit with Paystack deal

Lagos has been building a strong local startup scene for years, and this week that translated into a win that could mark a new era for the city, country and beyond. Stripe has agreed to acquire payments provider Paystack in a deal that Ingrid Lunden hears was worth more than $200 million. With Stripe’s own aims for a massive IPO, Paystack is poised to produce ongoing returns for the company and its investors, as well as providing Nigeria with a new generation of investors, founders and highly skilled employees who are tightly interlinked with Silicon Valley and other innovation centers.

A startup hub just needs one or two of the right deals to change everything. Readers who were paying attention when Google bought YouTube almost exactly 14 years ago today will remember the ensuing surge in fundings, foundings, acquisitions and overall consumer internet industry activity that helped the Silicon Valley internet scene get back on its feet (and helped this site get on the map, too). Stripe has said it is planning more global expansion that could include additional deals like this, so more cities around the world could be getting their moments this way.

Donau City development area - Vienna, Austria

Donau City development area – Vienna, Austria

Vienna startups finding new opportunities during the pandemic

In this week’s European investor survey for Extra Crunch, Mike Butcher checks in on Vienna, Austria, which has been tallying up growth in local startup activity recently. Here’s Eva Ahr of Capital 300, which focuses on Germanic and Central Eastern European investments, regarding about the impact of the pandemic on the local markets:

Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.

Mike is also working on a Lisbon survey and we’d love to hear from any investors focused on the city and Portugal in general.

Around TechCrunch

Discuss the unbundling of early-stage VC with Unusual Ventures’ Sarah Leary & John Vrionis

Across the week

TechCrunch:

If the ad industry is serious about transparency, let’s open-source our SDKs

Brazil’s Black Silicon Valley could be an epicenter of innovation in Latin America

South Korea pushes for AI semiconductors as global demand grows

The need for true equity in equity compensation

Trump’s latest immigration restrictions are bad news for American workers

Extra Crunch:

How COVID-19 and the resulting recession are impacting female founders

Startup founders set up hacker homes to recreate Silicon Valley synergy

Brighteye Ventures’ Alex Latsis talks European edtech funding in 2020

Dear Sophie: I came on a B-1 visa, then COVID-19 happened. How can I stay?

What the iPhone 12 tells us about the state of the smartphone industry in 2020

#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.

The whole crew was back today, with Natasha and Danny and I gathered to parse over what was really a blast of news. Lots of startups are raising. Lots of VCs are raising. And some unicorns are shooting to go public. It’s a lot to get through, but we’re here to catch you up.

Here’s what we got into:

And with that, we’re off until Monday morning. Chat soon, and stay safe.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Public investors stay in love with tech, as Root and Affirm file to IPO

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

Why are there so many tech IPOs right now? Startups are finding that they can get higher valuations from public markets than private ones these days, because so many public investors want to put serious money in tech. Also, the lure of the future, the benevolence of the Fed, the retail investor boom, the sheer number of unicorns that have been waiting for any decent moment to go, the new ways a company can go public… these are some of the reasons Alex Wilhelm found after reviewing the latest listings and quarterly data about tech in public markets.

Various political and economic turmoils threaten to end the run, but the impact to the startup world has arrived. Consider it for a minute before the newsletter dives into stocks, SPACs, emerging industries and other useful startup news.

From this IPO boom, there’ll be another wave of startup employee wealth flooding into adjacent real-world spaces, but spread more broadly outside of the Bay Area than the days of Facebook and Twitter IPOs. Some of those employees will become investors and maybe founders, and the now-public startups will replace those positions with big-company people. The dynamics around tech hiring will be further reshaped in surprising new ways, all combined with the other changes happening like remote work.

Today, if you’re founding a startup now, you can now confidently chart new ways to build your company long-term that previous generations of founders could barely imagine.

This coming decade, we might see a startup go public that raises from pre-seed rolling funds first, pulls in newly legalized crowdfunding, matches with the right VCs from among the thousands that have are operating these days — or perhaps the startup raises debt because it’s doing that well. It could stay private as long as it wants using the various financing and secondary market possibilities that have been figured out over the last decade. Then, when it is ready to go public, it could choose between traditional options, the perfect SPAC and a direct listing, and keep the shareholder pool in favor of the true believers who have been with the company over the course of the journey.

This current group of IPOs also demonstrates something else. Tech is no longer defined as some profitless, highly valued consumer tech startup in San Francisco. It can come from anywhere, it can solve practical problems, it can make real money, and it can keep building and growing — provided you’re okay with some ongoing risk. No wonder public markets like tech these days.

Take a look at Root Insurance, an insurtech unicorn that has already helped define the Columbus, Ohio startup scene. It’s a “startup Rorscach test,” as Alex details this week about its new IPO filing. “You can find things to like (improving adjusted margins! revenue growth!), and you can find things to not like (spiraling losses! negative margins!) very easily.”

Here’s more from the Extra Crunch article:

It appears that the tailwind that many insurance providers have seen during COVID-19 has provided Root with a nice boost (driving fell during the pandemic, leading some insurance providers to return premiums.) Root is taking advantage of the moment by filing when it can show sharply improved economics.

That’s smart. But how do those improved economics bear out in traditional accounting? Let’s find out:

  • Root’s revenue has skyrocketed from $43.3 million in 2018 to $290.2 million in 2019. In the first half of 2020, Root managed $245.4 million in revenue, up 135.73% from what it managed in the first half of 2019.
  • Root’s losses have also shot higher, from a net loss of $69.1 million in 2018 to $282.4 million in 2019. The startup has managed to consistently lose more money over time. This was also true more recently, when its H1 2020 net loss of $144.5 million dwarfed its H1 2019 loss of $97.0 million.

The other filing this week is for Affirm, which provides a point-of-sale credit for customers (without all the tricks of credit cards). It’s also a symbol of how innovation works across the decades, for those future founders who are studying the IPO experiments of unicorns today.

The company is a high-flying unicorn with a practical purpose from serial entrepreneur Max Levchin, who has also helped shape the concept of the modern startup — from cofounding Paypal and making numerous angel investments over the years, to Slide, a profitless, highly valued consumer tech company in San Francisco a decade ago. It’s not widely understood outside of tech, Slide and other social media companies helped pioneer the growth and engagement techniques that subsequent startups applied across SaaS, e-commerce, fintech and real-world sectors. Today, Root and Affirm and many of the other companies in this era of IPOs are standing on the lessons of those years.

Image Credits: Getty Images

SPAC growing pains

Special Purpose Acquisition Companies are sure to provide valuable lessons, as a growing group of startups use these investment vehicles to ease into public markets. Here’s the latest look at the action, starting with this disturbing quote that Connie Loizos got from one expert this week.

According to Kristi Marvin, a former investment banker who now runs the data site SPACInsider, she’s having, and hearing about, conversations with a much wider range of people interested in launching SPACs than in past years — and not all of them are necessarily equipped to manage the vehicles.

“You ask, ‘Have you ever acquired a company for $500 million or more? Do you have operating experience in the vertical that you’re targeting? Do you understand the reporting requirements involved?’ Often,” she says, “the answers are no.”

That was in the context of a controversial former Uber executive starting a SPAC; Connie also looked at gender representation in this emerging slice of high finance. Like other parts of that world, the people involve are almost entirely men (which is also continuing to be the case in startup funding, actually, Alex reports).

Meanwhile, Catherine Shu examined how troubled electric vehicle startup Faraday Futures is approaching SPAC plans, while Alex took a closer look at the challenges and opportunities facing Opendoor.

micromobility-ebikes-scooters

Image Credits: Getty Images

The future of mobility

Our annual conference on mobility and the future of transportation happened online this year, which means we have lots of easily accessible conference coverage to share for readers (and for Extra Crunch subscribers). Here are a few key headlines to help you focus your clicks:

What micromobility is missing

Quarantine drives interest in autonomous delivery, but it’s still miles from mainstream

Transportation VCs suggest frayed US-China ties will impact mobility markets (EC)

GettyImages 1063730694

Image Credits: Getty Images

Investor Surveys: APIs, Helsinki and Amsterdam

“I am surprised at how open companies are to a SaaS API for something as critical as cybersecurity,” Skyflow founder Anshu Sharma explains about the explosion of SaaS companies, and specifically API service providers like his company. “While I have spent over a decade in SaaS including some very large deals during my time at Salesforce, the scope of the projects by large companies including banks and healthcare companies is simply beyond what was a possibility just a few years ago. We have truly moved from ‘why SaaS’ to a ‘why not SaaS’ era.” Alex and Lucas Matney surveyed a range of top investors and founders in this exploding niche, and you can read the full thing on Extra Crunch.

Elsewhere in investor surveys, Mike Butcher checked out the Helsinki startup scene and has another about Amsterdam in progress.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna shares her perspective on COVID-19 and CRISPR

Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap

Standing by developers through Google v. Oracle

Dear Sophie: Now that a judge has paused Trump’s H-1B visa ban, how can I qualify my employees?

A clean energy company now has a market cap rivaling ExxonMobil

Extra Crunch

Understanding Airbnb’s summer recovery

Accel VCs Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia say European deal pace is ‘incredibly active’

4 sustainable industries where founders and VCs can see green by going green

Six favorite Techstars startups ahead of its next rush of demo days

To fill funding gaps, VCs boost efforts to find India’s standout early-stage startups

#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.

This week Natasha was on vacation, so Danny and your humble servant had to endeavor alone. She’s back next week, so we’ll be back to full strength as a collective soon enough.

But even with a depleted hosting crew, we had a mountain of news to get through. And to joke about, as Danny was in the mood for a laugh. Here’s the rundown:

That was a lot. We did our best. Hugs and chat with you next week!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Airbnb nears IPO as Asana and Palantir land their direct listings

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

The going has not always been easy but the tech IPOs keep coming. Airbnb itself is almost here, in what is likely to be the ultimate stock market listing of this dramatic year. After the pandemic triggered mass layoffs for the short-term rental marketplace, it has managed to make up all of the lost ground to pre-pandemic projections, TechCrunch and others have reported. Now, news is leaking out that it could seek to raise up to $3 billion at a $30 billion valuation.

The US presidential election in a month, Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and various other world events have yet to stop the tech IPO momentum.

This past Wednesday, Palantir and Asana both opted to put a limited number of shares up for sale directly instead of working with a bank to pre-sell portions to favored clients, following in the direct-listings footsteps of Spotify and Slack.

Palantir, which is continuing to get political scrutiny around its government data businesses, and Asana both finished the first few days of trading without any pop to speak of for initial public investors (although other things have been impacting markets in the same time frame). However, both companies have already turned billions of paper funding rounds into liquid money that can start going back to the employees and investors, as intended. And now, each can sail the high seas of public markets with a smaller, friendlier group of stockholders than many, many other public companies have.

We’ve been covering Palantir in great detail recently, but Asana’s entrance provides a broader lesson for the many aspiring SaaS startups out there.

Dustin Moskovitz, who has retained a huge amount of control as a cofounder/investor, told Danny Crichton for Extra Crunch that more than 40% of the task-focused work management provider’s revenue is now coming from outside of North America, with ongoing growth, high customer loyalty and big integrations with other SaaS providers. The results bode well for other SaaS companies considering direct listings, as Alex Wilhelm analyzes for EC:

Asana grew 63% in the six months ending July 31, 2020, compared to the same period of 2019, though that growth rate decelerated to around 57% when only looking at the most recent quarter and its historical analog. Good growth then, if slowing. And Asana’s gross margins were good and improving, coming in at 86% in the six months ending July 31, 2019, and 87% in the same period of 2020. But the company’s net losses were rising in gross and relative terms at the same time. In the six months ending July 31, 2020, Asana lost $76.9 million, up from $30.5 million in the same period of 2019. And, the company’s 77% net loss as a percent of revenue in the two quarters ending in July of 2020 was up from a 50% loss during the same period of the preceding year. Asana also consumed more cash this year than last year, with its operating cash burn rising from $13.1 million during the six months ending July 31, 2019 to $40.3 million in the same period of 2020.

And yet, from a reference price of $21, valuing the company at around $4 billion on a fully diluted basis, shares of Asana have risen to $25.14 at the open of trading this morning (though Asana lost several points today thanks to general market carnage). Current market trackers value the company at $3.86 billion.

Now, on to Airbnb! (And also, Datto!)

Source: Getty Images

Pandemic upsides arrive for cannabis, mental health and language learning

As the world tries to make sense of fresh Q3 data, we took a closer look at a few fresh startup trends. First, the cannabis market seems to be as strong as you’d expect. Matt Burns caught up with a range of weed-tech founders, investors and analysts, who shared almost entirely good news for the emerging sector. Here’s a highlight from Andy Lytwynec, VP, Global Vape Business at Canopy Growth, the cannabis holding company for a range of brands, including the vaporizer preferred by your self-medicated correspondent:

Lytwynec points to Storz & Bickle as a barometer of sorts in judging the impact of COVID-19. The German-based vaporizer company saw an uptick in sales, as reported in Canopy Growth’s latest quarterly report. The company reported a 71% increase during the first quarter ending on June 30. The financial report pointed to Storz & Bickel’s increased sales and distribution expansion as a primary reason for the increase. 

Just try getting a replacement for that mouthpiece you tragically broke at the start of quarantine. And don’t fall for that fake stuff on Amazon or you’ll be huffing plastic. Anyway…

Alex also checked in on mental health funding, which were already coming into their own before the pandemic. The first half of the year was the sector’s biggest yet, with a focus on remote therapy, virtual coaching and anxiety alleviation, although Q2 was down slightly from Q1. More, from Extra Crunch:

Investors are putting dollars to work in 2020 to further the growth mental health startups managed in 2018 and 2019. Per the CB Insights dataset, in Q1 and Q2 2020, these startups saw 106 rounds worth $1.08 billion. In the year-ago period, the figures were 87 rounds worth $750 million. (Unlike some subcategories of wellness startups that CB Insights detailed, mental health upstarts have enough regular VC volume to make year-over-year comparisons reasonable.)

In a different sector of tech-powered mind improvement, Duolingo is now on track to hit $180 million bookings, chief executive Luis von Ahn tells Natasha Mascarenhas for EC. While the language-learning company has seen usage surge from 30 million to 42 million monthly active users this year, it only makes money from 3% of them (those who want to pay to avoid seeing ads, get download access, and other features).

The future of transportation

From Kirsten Korosec, our resident mobility expert and host of our next event:

If you’re interested in tech, transportation and startups — of course you are — you should make our next event a priority. And it’s coming up in just a few days. TechCrunch is hosting TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on October 6 & 7, a virtual event that will bring together the best and brightest minds working on automated vehicle technology, shared micromobility and electrification. We’ll be talking to former Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel about his new venture Redwood Materials, the CEOs of EV newcomers Polestar and Lucid Motors, Formula E driver Lucas di Grassi about a new kind of racing event (hint, scooters!), early stage-investors from Trucks VC, Hemi Ventures and Maniv as well as Uber’s director of policy for cities Shin-Pei Tsay, to name a few. Plus there will be a dedicated networking time, a pitch night on October 5 and a virtual expo. There are a variety of ticket prices to meet your budget, including one for students. But I’m also here bearing gifts: Startups Weekly readers can get 50% off the full price at this link. If you’d just like to check out the startups expo portion, Startups Weekly readers can get in free with this link.

Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top Indian app developers join global platform rebellion

Manish Singh, our lead reporter covering Indian startups, has been breaking news on the growing dissent against app platform policies. It’s getting epic:

More than 150 startups and firms in India are working to form an alliance and toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The list of entrepreneurs includes high-profile names, such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Paytm (India’s most valuable startup); Deep Kalra of travel ticketing firm MakeMyTrip; and executives from PolicyBazaar, RazorPay and ShareChat. The growing list of founders expressed deep concerns about Google’s “monopolistic” hold on India, home to one of the world’s largest startup ecosystems, and discussed what they alleged was unfair and inconsistent enforcement of Play Store’s guidelines in the country.

Their effort comes days after a small group of firms — including Epic Games, Spotify, Basecamp, Match Group and ProtonMail — forged their own coalition to pressure Apple and Google to make changes to their marketplace rules.

“Where else do these dollars go?”

Danny interviewed SF-based Index Ventures partners Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon about the latest trends in startup fundraising. Here’s a key part about the macro trends, that also explains why all those tech IPOs continue to happen (and do well):

TechCrunch: Given the amount of capital flowing into venture these days, have you noticed any LPs starting to pull back from the market?

Cannon: They’re not pulling back. In fact, it’s like, “Could you potentially take more allocation? And what do you think of these other seed managers?”

I think the way that I’ve got my mind around this is, where else would these dollars go? What are the alternatives for the dollars that are rushing into tech? I don’t know the latest numbers, but it was something like 40% of stock market returns are actually concentrated in Apple [and FAANG]. And then we’re seeing IPOs perform the same.

We’re in a global pandemic that could easily cause [another] recession. A lot of industries like airlines and travel have more exposure. Tech is just relatively more attractive. So if the interest rates are low, which they are, and [economists] have said that they’re going to be low for the coming decades, then you’re going to have lots of capital chasing returns.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger on the startup’s $100 million round, profitability and SPAC mania

How Twilio built its own conference platform

Working for social justice isn’t a ‘distraction’ for mission-focused companies

Apple removes two RSS feed readers from China App Store

Calling VCs in Rome and Milan: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

Extra Crunch

News apps in the US and China use algorithms to drive engagement, discovery

Which neobanks will rise or fall?

9 VCs in Madrid and Barcelona discuss the COVID-19 era and look to the future

Spain’s startup ecosystem: 9 investors on remote work, green shoots and 2020 trends

Healthcare entrepreneurs should prepare for an upcoming VC/PE bubble

#EquityPod

From Natasha:

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

This week, Alex is on a much-deserved vacation (but not from Twitter, it seems) so Danny Crichton and I chatted through the news and happenings of the week. Somehow we winded our way through the latest tech controversies, gave Chris Wallace a shout out and ended with some funding rounds. I’ll be out next week so don’t miss me too much, but expect the entire Equity team to be back full-speed in mid-October. Thanks, as always, to our producer Chris Gates for his patience and diligence.

Now, onto a sneak peek of what we got into:

  • Moderation continues to be the root of all problems. We got into the anti-semitic comments that were spewed on Clubhouse, and what that means for the future of the audio-only platform. As Danny so eloquently put it: if Clubhouse is having moderation problems even with an exclusive invite-only user base, the problem will grow.
  • We also talked about Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s blog post, which triggered a debate between us on whether tech companies can even choose to not be political. For the record, Black Lives Matter is not a political statement. It’s a human statement. Read this op-ed for more.
  • I wrote a piece about how a new program wants to be the Y Combinator for emerging fund managers. The whole “YC for X” model usually makes me roll my eyes, but listen to hear why I’m actually optimistic and bullish on programs like these taking off within tech.
  • Silver Lake added a $2 billion “long-term” hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi to its tech finance toolkit. The strategy is a signal to privately backed startups, and potentially a slap in the face to SoftBank.
  • For a quick edtech note, I caught up with Duolingo’s CEO this week in one of his rare press interviews. Luis von Ahn explained the app’s surge in bookings, and there’s one key metric we pull out to noodle over.
  • Danny explained Gusto’s latest product launch with, wait for it, Gusto. In all seriousness, he brings up interesting points about the future of fintech feeling more full-suite, and free.
  • Funding round chatter continued when we unpacked Lee Fixel’s latest investment in India’s Inshorts.
  • Finally, we ended with LiquidDeath, which is not the name of a drinking game, but instead the name of a startup that has successfully attracted millions in venture capital for mountain water.

And with that, we will be back next week. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Equity  drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Is your startup the next Tik Tok?

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

And I don’t mean building an app that gets the world addicted to short-form videos. I mean, where you build a huge company that spans the world and then get turned into a political football.

The Bytedance-owned app developer still appears headed for a shutdown in the US, after the already convoluted talks stalled out this past week. Each national government appears to require local ownership of a new entity, as Catherine Shu details, and the business partners are each claiming ownership. It’s a zero sum global game now for control of data and algorithms.

On the other side of the world, Facebook was quick to state that it would not be pulling out of the European Union this week even if it is forced to keep EU user data local, as Natasha Lomas covered. The company was clarifying a recent filing it had made that seemed to threaten otherwise — it doesn’t want to get TikTok’d.

For startups with physical supply chains, existing tensions are squeezing business activity from Chimerica out into other parts of the world, as Brian Heater wrote about the topic for Extra Crunch this week. Here’s what one founder told him:

Many [companies] are considering manufacturing in areas like Southeast Asia and India. Vietnam, in particular, has offered an appealing proposition for a labor pool, notes Ho Chi Minh City-based Sonny Vu, CEO of carbon-fiber products manufacturer Arevo and founder of deep tech VC fund Alabaster. “We’re friendly [with] the Americans and the West in general. Vietnam, they’ve got 100 million people, they can make stuff,” Vu explains. “The supply chains are getting more and more sophisticated. One of the issues has been the subpar supply chain … it’s not as deep and broad as as other places like China. That’s changing really fast and people are willing to do manufacturing. I’ve heard from my friends trying to make stuff in China, labor’s always this chronic issue.”

Danny Crichton blamed nationalistic US policies for undermining the country’s long-term commitment to leading global free trade and threatening its competitive future, in a provocative rant last weekend. There’s truth to that, but the underlying truth is that globalization worked, it just hasn’t work as well as hoped for a lot of people in the US and some other parts of the world. In addition to phenomenon like China’s industrial engine, for example, those cross-border flows of money and technology have helped nurture the startup ecosystem in Europe.

Mike Butcher, who has been covering startups for TechCrunch from London since last decade, writes about a new report from Index Ventures about this trend.

It used to be the case that in order to scale globally, European companies needed to spend big on launching in the U.S. to achieve the kind of growth they wanted. That usually meant relocating large swathes of the team to the San Francisco Bay Area, or New York. New research suggests that is no longer the case, as the U.S. has become more expensive, and as the opportunity in Europe has improved. This means European startups are committing much less of their team and resources to a U.S. launch, but still getting decent results…. Between 2008-2014, almost two-thirds (59%) of European startups expanded, or moved entirely, to the U.S. ahead of Series A funding rounds. However, between 2015-2019, this number decreased to a third (33%).

The report also highlights the economic problem of dividing up markets into political blocks. “European corporates invest three-quarters (76%) less than their U.S. counterparts on software,” Butcher adds about the report. “And this is normally on compliance rather than innovation. This means European startups are likely to continue to look to the U.S. for exits to corporates.”

The pain from failing to trade will come home sooner or later to each government, as Danny observes. But that could be longer than your current company exists. Instead, now is the time to pick the markets you can win, and plan for a world where success has a lower ceiling. And hey, if you’re lucky, your national government could pick you as its winner!

Want $100m ARR? Fix your churn

We’ve been recapping key moments from the Extra Crunch Stage at Disrupt this week, here’s a key segment from a panel Alex Wilhelm hosted about how to achieve the $100m ARR dream, featuring Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain:

After explaining that in the early stages of building a SaaS company it’s common to focus more on adding new revenue than “plugging the holes at the bottom,” [Jain] added that as a company matures and grows, more focus has to be paid to managing churn and retention. He said that dollar-based retention is a key metric in the SaaS world that startups are valued by, meaning that after securing a customer, your ability to upsell that same account over a “defined window of time” really matters.

Noting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that bonuses at Egnyte are tied to retention, “I say, managing churn is the new revenue,” he added. “Focus on that disproportionately more than you would focus on just top-line growth” … . Egnyte, Jain added, drives to just one or two metrics (net new MRR, or gross MRR adds and churn). “Everything that we’re doing, all of us [at Egnyte] have to be measured with that number to say, ‘How are we doing as a company?’” So if your startup is post-Series A, listen to what Jain says on managing churn. After all his company reached $100 million ARR, has a few dozen million in the bank, grew 22% in Q2 and is EBITDA positive.

Summer of tech IPOs continues with Root, Corsair Gaming and of course, Palantir

While public markets have waffled on tech stocks lately, the overall momentum of unicorn IPOs has continued.

Except, Danny may have slowed things down a bit for Palantir? Here are the key headlines from the week:

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO? (EC)

Chamath launches SPAC, SPAC and SPAC as he SPACs the world with SPACs

Palantir publishes 2020 revenue guidance of $1.05B, will trade starting Sept 30th

Following TechCrunch reporting, Palantir rapidly removes language allowing founders to ‘unilaterally adjust their total voting power’

In its 5th filing with the SEC, Palantir finally admits it is not a democracy

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? (EC)

Even more info about the best investors for you

We’re making another big update to The TechCrunch List of startup investors who write the first checks and lead the scary rounds, based on thousands of recommendations that we’ve been receiving from founders. Here’s more, from Danny:

Since the launch of the List, we’ve seen great engagement: tens of thousands of founders have each come back multiple times to use the List to scout out their next fundraising moves and understand the ever-changing landscape of venture investing.

We last revised The TechCrunch List at the end of July 30 with 116 new VCs based on founder recommendations, but as with all things venture capital, the investing world moves quickly. That means it’s already time to begin another update.

To make sure we have the best information, we need founders — from new founders who might have just raised their VC rounds to experienced founders adding another round to their cap tables — to submit recommendations. Thankfully, our survey is pretty short (about two minutes), and the help you can give other founders fundraising is invaluable. Please submit your recommendation soon.

Since our last update in July, we have already had 840 founders submit new recommendations, and we are now sitting at about 3,500 recommendations in total now. Every recommendation helps us identify promising and thoughtful VCs, helping founders globally cut through the noise of the industry and find the leads for their next checks.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live: Join Index Ventures VCs Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon Sept 29 at 2 pm EDT/11 am PDT on the future of startup investing

TC Sessions Mobility 2020 kicks off in two weeks

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Explore the global markets of micromobility at TC Sessions: Mobility

Don’t miss the Q&A sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling Helsinki VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

Human Capital: The Black founder’s burden

Thanks to Google, app store monopoly concerns have now reached India

Free VPNs are bad for your privacy

Extra Crunch

The Peloton effect

Edtech investors are panning for gold

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

How Robinhood and Chime raised $2B+ in the last year

Dear Sophie: Possible to still get through I-751 and citizenship after divorce?

Equity: Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet?

From Alex Wilhelm:

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

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and your humble servant gathered to chat through a host of rounds and venture capital news for your enjoyment. As a programming note, I am off next week effectively, so look for Natasha to lead on Equity Monday and then both her and Danny to rock the Thursday show. I will miss everyone.

But onto the show itself, here’s what we got into:

Bon voyage for a week, please stay safe and don’t forget to register to vote.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

From Unity to Disrupt, tech has an especially optimistic week

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

While TechCrunch was busy producing our first-ever online Disrupt this week, the IPO market got even more exciting than expected — so here’s a quick look. Snowflake, Jfrog, Sumo Logic and Unity each raised price ranges days before IPO, to meet what had seemed like growing enthusiasm from public markets. Yet each still opened higher than its offering price, with cloud data-warehousing company Snowflake’s value doubling to make it the largest software IPO in history and Unity up 30%.

Despite the pandemic and various major turmoils around the world, the promise of these companies is helping to maintain optimism from retail investors to people thinking about founding a company.

Here’s a quick look at our coverage of the main companies in the IPO process this week, in chronological order:

Snowflake and JFrog raise IPO ranges as tech markets stay hot (EC)

As it heads for IPO, Palantir hires a chief accountant and gets approval from NYSE to trade

What’s ahead in IPO land for JFrog, Snowflake, Sumo Logic and Unity (EC)

JFrog and Snowflake’s aggressive IPO pricing point to strong demand for cloud shares (EC)

Unity raises IPO price range after JFrog, Snowflake target steep debut valuations

Go public now while software valuations make no sense, Part II

In its 4th revision to the SEC, Palantir tries to explain what the hell is going on

It’s game on as Unity begins trading

Unity Software has strong opening, gaining 31% after pricing above its raised range

And don’t miss Alex Wilhelm’s additional notes coming later today over on The Exchange weekend newsletter.

Image Credits: Canix

Disrupt 2020

Our tenth annual startup conference was remote-first this year, but it managed to capture the same sort of vibe in my humble opinion.

First, a cannabis SaaS company took home the grand prize at the Startup Battlefield competition… we are truly living in the cloud these days. Here’s more, from Matt Burns:

Growing cannabis on an industrial scale involves managing margins while continually adhering to compliance laws. For many growers, large and small, this consists of constant data entry from seed to sale. Canix’s solution employs a robust enterprise resource planning platform with a steep tilt toward reducing the time it takes to input data. This platform integrates nicely with common bookkeeping software and Metrc, an industry-wide regulatory platform, through the use of RFID scanners and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Canix launched in June 2019, and in a little over a year (and during a pandemic), acquired over 300 customers spanning more than 1,000 growing facilities and tracking the movement of 2.5 million plants.

Next, here’s an especially pithy take on the future of startups, from senior Benchmark partner Peter Fenton.

I think this opportunity to build the tools for a world that’s ‘post place’ has just opened up and is as exciting as anything I’ve seen in my venture career. You walk around right now and you see these ghosts towns, with gyms, classes you might take [and so forth] and now maybe you go online and do Peloton, or that class you maybe do online. So I think a whole field of opportunities will move into this post-place delivery mechanism that are really exciting. [It] could be 10 to 20 years of innovation that just got pulled forward into today.

The truth is that I have not had time to watch all of the talks — I was busy with the Extra Crunch stage and other stuff, and that’s not even counting other programming we had going on. So check out the quick selection of picks below. To catch up more, you can browse the full agenda and watch the videos here.

We’ll also be offering coverage of the EC stage plus analysis from our conversations in the coming weeks, for subscribers (which includes anyone who bought a ticket and redeemed it for an annual subscription).

Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

Daphne Koller: ‘Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now’

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

Indian decacorn Byju’s CEO talks about future acquisitions, coronavirus and international expansion

Fabletics’ Adam Goldenberg and Kevin Hart on what’s next for the activewear empire

Southeast Asia’s East Ventures on female VCs, foreign investment, consolidation

Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19 — Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted

In this photo illustration a TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone with a ByteDance logo on the background. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tik Tok and geopolitics

Over in the real world, Tik Tok is still on track for a full shut-down despite the frantic dealmaking efforts by innumerable parties. At one point this week, it looked like Oracle and various business interests had a plan to keep Tik Tok alive as an independent company that would IPO (with some sort of national security oversight), and maybe that will still come about? I doubt Trump and his advisers will go along with that plan, given the national security problem of leaving algorithms controlled from China, and the long-term trade problem of US consumer tech being banned there too.

Meanwhile, the Bytedance-owned company also just announced 100 million users in Europe. Apparently it was a press push to counter the bad news, but as Ingrid Lunden notes, it’s hard to know what this user base means without the US. To which I’d add, European regulators are already busy going after foreign tech companies. I can’t imagine that they’ll leave an app this popular alone.

It’s another reminder that the next era will not offer startups the same possibilities for global success.

Communication between two people.

How to hire your first engineer (if you’re a nontechnical founder)

Lucas Matney talked with technical leaders and startup founders to figure out a key problem that many readers of this newsletter have had before (including me). How to get someone who can make your company a tech company? Here’s the intro, with the full thing on Extra Crunch:

Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO  — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options.

I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas:

  • Sourcing technical candidates.
  • How to conduct interviews.
  • Making an offer.
  • Taking a nontraditional route.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling VCs in Zurich & Geneva: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

Opendoor to go public by way of Chamath Palihapitiya SPAC

Black Tech Pipeline proves the ‘pipeline problem’ isn’t real

Gaming companies are reportedly the next targets in the US government’s potentially broader Tencent purge

Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, two funding rounds and Nvidia will buy ARM

Extra Crunch

3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020

The stages of traditional fundraising

Making sense of 3 edtech extension rounds

Facebook investor Jim Breyer picks Austin as Breyer Capital’s second home

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

#EquityPod: Schools are closing their doors, but Opendoor isn’t

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

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and myself hosted a live taping at Disrupt for a digital reception. It was good fun, though of course we’re looking forward to bringing the live show back to the conference next year, vaccine allowing.

Thankfully we had Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials, Alexandra Ames fitting us into the program and some folks to watch live.

What did we talk about? All of this (and some very, very bad jokes):

And then we tried to play a game that may or may not make it into the final cut. Either way, it was great to have Equity back at Disrupt. More to come. Hugs from us!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

With Goat Capital, Justin Kan and Robin Chan want to keep founding alongside the right teams

Justin Kan and Robin Chan have each been angel investing for more than a decade. They’re starting a new fund together now, though, to stay involved as cofounders of more startups.

Goat Capital is a hybrid incubator versus a pure seed investment firm, Chan explains. It will be writing checks ranging between roughly half a million and $3 million dollars, and it is only planning to raise $40 million — so the checks will be selective.

The offering is that “you’re going to be working with Justin and Robin,” he says, as a direct collaboration to help your company succeed. With $25 million closed already from themselves and several family offices, the fund has begun investing globally with particular interests in digital health, ecommerce, digital entertainment and gaming, robotics and climate change.

The goal is not just about trying to be the Greatest Of All Time, Kan adds. In a startup, you “climb high heights and eat shit to get there. That tenacity is what we want.”

It’s a nod to their own successes and struggles as founders over the years, and what they have seen as investors and advisors to a wide range of companies around the world (Twitter, Xiaomi, Bird, Uber, Square, Ginkgo Bioworks, Scale.ai, Cruise, Razorpay, Xendit, Equipment Share, Wave, Teachable, Semantic Machines, Rippling, Built Robotics, etc.)

Kan was a cofounder of Justin.tv, which became Twitch as well as Socialcam. He later had an on-demand company called Exec and previously a calendar app called Kiko, both of which sold for small amounts. Most recently, he took a big shot at the traditional legal industry with Atrium, a law firm and legal software startup that raised big rounds of funding before shuttering earlier this year.

His prototype for Goat is Alto Pharmacy, a booming digital health unicorn today that the founders started in his living room.

“We do think founders should be treated like athletes, going for gold really hard… the Olympic metaphor,” Kan qualifies about the name. “That means grinding for years — and having to rest, too. I’m very passionate about mental health and wellness as part of the journey.” (More on that here.)

Chan, meanwhile, sold his gaming startup in China to Zynga a decade ago, then helped lead a failed attempt to buy Blackberry before founding Operator, a well-funded ecommerce company that closed a few years ago. During the pandemic, he helped create Operation Mask, a nonprofit that has been providing PPE across the US. He’s also an ongoing advisor to Sleeper, Bird, Expa and Flipboard.

The focus will be fully global now. Chan explains that even though you’re seeing more challenges to building a truly global company these days, there’s more space for local startups to win big.

“There’s the US internet, the China internet, the India internet, the EU internet — in some ways it makes those markets more valuable to win, like traditional media. Broadcast and cable are highly geographic but the franchise value becomes higher because of the regulatory moat.”

Chan, on that note, met Kan back when he was a director at Verizon Wireless, when Justin.tv was trying to negotiate for free data. When I asked if they had worked out a deal during a phone interview, Kan said “you [expletive] didn’t.]”

But it did lead to other co-investments later on, including Ramp, Workstream and others, and now this fund.

Today, Kan says that the focus on teams will be as flexible as the times. “When we started, the internet was America,” he says. “If you weren’t there, you weren’t a company. It’s been a complete reversal of that. Now teams are international, talent is international, more and more companies are building remote first — although you’d seen that before given the costs of the Bay. We have an entirely remote company in North Carolina, Grammarly in Europe… it’s more and more the norm. Smart founders are going anywhere to find talent.

For the two partners, this new fund will be about staying connected to that certain startup feeling that is elusive for anyone trying to build something great.

“There’s nothing more magical than being in the first step of a special company,” Chan says. “That glimpse of the future. We wouldn’t get the same feeling at the growth stage versus working with small teams or a single founder. I think we have the instinct.”

Snowflake, Unity, JFrog move towards IPOs despite public market turmoil

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

Warren Buffet is eager to invest in a money-burning SaaS unicorn that is about to IPO. Despite recent tech stock declines and growing fears of US election turbulence, this is one reason that Snowflake is on track to be one of the biggest offerings of the year. And it is not the only company defying the pandemic and newer problems in order to get out of the gate soon.

First, here’s Alex Wilhelm with more Snowflake filing details:

The $75 to $85 per-share IPO price target values the firm at between $20.9 billion and $23.7 billion, huge sums for the private company. Its IPO could raise more than $2.7 billion for the startup. Snowflake  was last valued at around $12.5 billion when it raised a Series G worth $479 million earlier this year.

Built into those valuation projections are two private placements of stock in Snowflake, $250 million apiece from both Salesforce,  the well-known CRM player, and Berkshire Hathaway, better known for its investment returns in the 80s and 90s, Cherry Coke and Charlie Munger’s humor. Jokes aside, the inclusion of Salesforce in the IPO is notable, but not a shock, but Berkshire taking part in the public market debut of Snowflake, a company with historic losses that are nigh-tyrannical, is.

Today, “epic growth, improving gross margins and dramatically curtailed losses” are factors that lure investors like Buffett, Alex concludes.

In other pre-IPO analysis this week, Eric Peckham takes a deeper look at Unity this week, updating a massive analysis he had done last year. Basically, the game engine creator could be more central to our online future than many seem to realize today:

Much of the press about Unity’s S-1 filing mischaracterizes the business. Unity is easily misunderstood because most people who aren’t (game) developers don’t know what a game engine actually does, because Unity has numerous revenue streams, and because Unity and the competitor it is most compared to — Epic Games — only partially overlap in their businesses….

For those in the gaming industry who are familiar with Unity, the S-1 might surprise you in a few regards. The Asset Store is a much smaller business that you might think, Unity is more of an enterprise software company than a self-service platform for indie devs and advertising solutions appear to make up the largest segment of Unity’s revenue.

In an accompanying analysis for Extra Crunch, he digs into the filing and maps out the bear and bull cases for the company. Some of the biggest issues he notes are that it is still fairly reliant on advertising (even though it wants a SaaS multiple) and it is continuing to lose lots of money on ambitious expansions. So this is probably not Warren Buffett’s type of frozen dessert, if you will. Risk-seekers and futurists, however, will want to try this free sample of the bull case:

Game engines are eating the world… A vast swath of entertainment and work activities already center on interactive content. Unity has demonstrated value and early adoption across numerous industries for a long list of use cases; it is on the precipice of entering the daily workload of millions of professionals, from engineers to industrial designers to film producers to marketers. Its Create Solutions division is on a path to becoming something of a next generation Adobe ($11 billion in 2019 revenue): A creative suite used by design, engineering, marketing and sales teams across industries.

As AR and VR technology expands into mainstream use over the decade ahead, Unity’s adoption will only expand further. The majority of AR and VR content is already made with Unity’s engine and Unity’s R&D is improving the ease of creating such content by less technical professionals (and students). This positions Unity to expand into key functions higher up in the tech/content stack of mixed reality by providing identity, app distribution, payment and other solutions across content experiences.

Elsewhere in our IPO coverage, Danny Crichton got the details about Palantir insiders accelerating their stock sales for Extra Crunch, and Alex dug into the fresh Sumo Logic and JFrog filings S-1 filings.

blank check SPAC

Image Credits: Lawrence Anareta / Getty Images

Two considerations of SPACs

Special purpose acquisition companies are a thing now for tech startups that want to go public, but are they the best thing? Here’s top seed-VC investor Josh Kopelman’s take, via an interview from this week with Connie Loizos.

On the one hand, just for fun, I made sure that we owned Lastround.com in case we ever wanted to launch our SPAC. [Laughs.] But it’s hard to know the true benefit of a SPAC. And I think that now that we’ve begun to see a market shift toward allowing direct listings with a fundraising component, you might see that as a far more viable and frequent fundraising or a liquidity device.

A fresh startup trend he’s more positive about is rolling funds (short-window raises for small very early investments, like the new offering from AngelList).

But back to SPACs. George Arison, cofounder and co-CEO of car-buying unicorn Shift, wrote a guest post for Extra Crunch this week about how he has approached taking his own company through a SPAC. Among other things, he says, private investments in public equity are not only good but essential:

There are some in Silicon Valley who think that raising a PIPE is a bad idea — quite frankly, this is patently false. A core reason why SPACs work today, and why they differ from the first generation of SPACs that often did not work, is because of the PIPE process. The PIPE period allows companies to raise more capital, to validate valuations, and it also creates a pathway to transition “special situations” investors to fundamental investors that you want as long-term shareholders.

A pause for Belarus, and PandaDoc employees

After Belarus-born PandaDoc CEO Mikita Mikado publicly supported opposition to his country’s dictatorship, state police raided the company’s large operation in the country and imprisoned four of its employees on spurious charges. As they fight for justice for their colleagues, and for the country’s political process, they’re planning to close operations in the country, and are joining with other startups to highlight the damage to the local tech scene. More about the movement in the subtitled video below:

Investor surveys: proptech’s future, Warsaw and more

We’ve been trying to understand what is really going on with real estate and proptech, given the various impacts the traditionally glacial sector has experienced lately (pandemic, remote work, retail issues etc.). On Tuesday we ran the second part of our most recent survey, focused on present and future opportunities. Here’s Clelia Warburg Peters, venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures, about making peace with real estate agents and focusing on financial and processing aspect that have not been disrupted in a very long time

Up until recently, the innovation in the residential space was all focused on disintermediating the real estate broker, and I think the most sophisticated entrepreneurs are increasingly understanding that service is a core component of a home sale… [T]he bigger opportunity is finding a way to leverage the position of the real estate agent (in whatever form) to sell affiliated products, including title, mortgage and home insurance or to innovate in those products themselves.

Elsewhere in survey work this past week, Mike Butcher checked in with investors focused on Warsaw and Poland, and is also looking for folks to talk to about the Vienna tech scene.

Around TechCrunch

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020

Meet the final round judges who will decide the winner of this year’s Disrupt Battlefield Competition

FaZe Clan’s Lee Trink, Troy Carter and Nick ‘Nickmercs’ Kolcheff are coming to Disrupt 2020

Drew Houston will talk about building a startup and digital transformation during COVID at TechCrunch Disrupt

Women exhibitors in Digital Startup Alley: Meet female-focused accelerators

Meet the TC Top Picks for Disrupt 2020

All the ways to meet someone and make connections at Disrupt 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

How one VC firm wound up with no-code startups as part of its investing thesis

It’s time to better identify the cost of cybersecurity risks in M&A deals

Why established venture firms should court emerging managers

Apple lays out its messy vision for how xCloud and Stadia will work with its App Store rules

Viral article puts the brakes on China’s food delivery frenzy

Extra Crunch

How to respond to a data breach

Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup

What’s driving API-powered startups forward in 2020?

Slack’s earnings detail how COVID-19 is both a help and a hindrance to cloud growth

VCs pour funding into edtech startups as COVID-19 shakes up the market

#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.

The whole crew was back, with Natasha Mascarenhas and Danny Crichton and myself chattering, and Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials as always. This week was a real team effort as we are heading into the maw of Disrupt — more here, see you there — but there was a lot of news all the same.

So, here’s what we got to:

We wrapped with whatever this is, which was at least good for a laugh. We are back next week at Disrupt, so see you all there!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

How to find the right users as the world burns

You have more ways than ever to find the right users for your startup — if you know what you’re doing. 

Today, you can pick from a selection of self-serve ad tools across large consumer platforms, build out your own content marketing and develop a sophisticated funnel to grow, retain and ultimately monetize your users, all using the most cutting-edge software that the SaaS industry can provide. But the best-practices from even a few years ago are out of date now, and the pandemic has created many new challenges. 

We’ve invited two top experts in the field to the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt 2020 from September 14-18 to help you think more strategically about growth, from the latest trends affecting any company, to the strategic framework you need for 2020 and beyond, to the best ways to communicate with investors about your hard-won gains.

  • Susan Su is a startup growth advisor at Sound Ventures and longtime startup operator and angel investor. She previously led startup growth at Stripe, served as an in-house growth advisor at 500 startups and led the growth marketing as a founding team member at Reforge.
  • Brian Balfour is the CEO of Reforge, a career accelerator program provide used by top operators at tech companies to hone skills on growth, monetization and much else. He was previously the VP of growth at HubSpot, an EIR at Trinity Ventures, prolific angel investor and serial founder.

You’ll find this session alongside several other founder-focused interaction sessions on the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt 2020. You’ll need to grab your Digital Pro Pass or your Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package to be able to catch it all. And to top it all off, you’ll also get a complementary Extra Crunch subscription so you can take advantage of these insights for a whole year! Register today!

The future of retail and office space is up in the air, and proptech investors are optimistic

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The malls and grocery stores of the 20th century are being converted into industrial conveyor belts of goods and services traveling from the internet to your home. The customer is no longer even allowed inside, as Connie Loizos details this week in a closer look at Amazon and other online-first companies taking over commercial spaces near you.

Americans sort of knew this was coming. Still, the pace at which buildings of all sizes are being either built or converted into e-commerce fulfillment centers — and closer to city centers — has become a bit breathtaking. According to the commercial real estate services firm CBRE, since 2017 at least 59 projects in the U.S. have centered on converting 14 million square feet of retail space into 15.5 million square feet of industrial space, and that trend is “absolutely going to continue,” says Matthew Walaszek, an associate director of industrial and logistics research at CBRE.

Some huge portion of existing retail space is disappearing from public life. Meanwhile, remote work is simultaneously gutting office demand, the even more lucrative part of commercial real estate.

No doubt there will be wonderful new in-real-life experiences that commercial spaces provide for work and any other function. But the sector is taking massive systemic cuts and destroying landlords in one of the historically slowest moving industries in the world. This alone makes it incredibly exciting as a topic for TechCrunch to cover. The impact on startups makes the changes today profound. Will superstar cities and startub hubs retain the pull they’ve had in recent decades? Even if you want to be remote-first, what if you want to get out of the house and your team does too? What if you don’t want to live in a house, actually? 

To get more answers at the bleeding edge, Kirsten Korosec and your faithful correspondent did a fresh survey of 9 of the top investors in real estate and proptech (based on our TechCrunch List and other research). Extra Crunch readers can check out what they think will happen to startups soon in the middle of pandemic changes, and where they see proptech going along with the rest of the trends longer term. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts, from Brad Griewe of Fifth Wall:

We don’t believe that abandonment of central business districts will remain an issue following the pandemic. Because the concentration of startup and entrepreneurial activity occurring in cities such as San Francisco and New York is on the decline, we can expect smaller metro areas throughout the U.S. to benefit from a surge in innovation, and the pandemic only stands to accelerate this trend, with many entrepreneurs and knowledge workers having already discovered the benefits of remote work and life outside of high-density areas. While this will not alter our investment strategy, we’re spending time with the office landlords in our network considering alternative spaces for work (e.g., flexible workplace solutions, flex passes, smaller and scattered HQs, cross-purpose retail and dynamic food venues), advances in collaboration technology and the ways in which physical assets can accommodate strong connectivity.

Stay tuned for part two of survey responses coming next week, looking at specific trends that investors are seeing now, like the ongoing growth of coliving.

As markets adjust to Softbank, will we see a slowdown in tech IPOs?

In addition to the numerous other reasons for real and unreal enthusiasm in the stock market, Softbank has been buying up huge shares of tech stocks, and propelling the market further upwards — until this information become clearer in the last few days and the market dropped below what had been surprising peaks. Here’s Alex Wilhelm summing up how the week ended and what’s next:

Tech stocks are taking the worst hits. And inside of tech stocks, SaaS and cloud stocks are enduring even bigger declines. As we’ve noted that some tech shares have taken lumps when their growth has underwhelmed investors, perhaps we’re seeing the entire SaaS sector see their growth expectations slip?

Bulls may say that the above declines are merely a few weeks’ gains and that the accelerated digital transformation is still a key tailwind for SaaS. Bears may say that this is the start of a real correction in the value of tech shares that had become simply too expensive for their fundamentals. What we can say with confidence is that software shares are in a technical correction, and other equities cohorts that we care about are not far behind.

Monday is an off day for stocks. Let’s see what happens Tuesday and if the bleeding stops or simply keeps on letting.

With this update in mind, here’s our ongoing coverage of the busy return (to date) of the IPO market after the pandemic:

The IPO parade continues as Wish files, Bumble targets an eventual debut

What happens when public SaaS companies don’t meet heightened investor expectations?

In amended filing, Palantir admits it won’t have independent board governance for up to a year

An IPO expert bats back at the narrative that traditional IPOs are for ‘morons’

Frugal startups should pay attention to how JFrog’s IPO prices

Everybody is racing to an IPO — even Laird Hamilton’s young ‘superfood’ company

Zoom’s Q2 report details some of the most extraordinary growth I’ve ever seen

The good and the less-good from Sumo Logic’s updated IPO filing

Image: TechCrunch

Snapchat a winner so far from TikTok ban threat

As the September 15 deadline looms for Bytedance, and the likelihood of either a full shutdown or hollow acquisition seem to grow, TikTok users are moving. Even if you’re not working on a consumer startup, the future may be getting rewritten now for your marketing plans on hot social platforms. Nearly every company these days needs to have a public brand presence and a growing number sell direct, after all. So get ready for… Snapchat.

Our resident app expert, Sarah Perez, writes that Snap’s app has a massive 28.5 million new app installs over August, a 29% year-over-year growth rate nearing or beating its past records, and well above July’s (pre-ban announcement) 9%. What about other platforms? It’s harder to track the impact on larger social sites like Facebook and Instagram, as she notes. But my guess is you’ll probably still be buying those Facebook ads well into the future, and probably for more videos too.

The bans probably aren’t done, either. India, which was first to ban TikTok, has added dozens more apps from China, as those two countries continue an armed face-off in real life. Manish Singh, our startup reporter in India, has been following the story closely, and writes for Extra Crunch that so far, TikTok replacements have not been emerging so clearly.

(Photo by Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Investing in startup hubs around the world

Speaking of the uncertain future of startup hub cities versus the world, the EC team took a different angle to the question this week, by considering the question of how geography-focused investors remain by today? Here’s a blisteringly spicy take from resident former VC Danny Crichton:

It should never have mattered before, of course, but then, sometimes idiots Harvard Business grads need a global pandemic to prove that they can actually do their jobs in novel ways. The arbitrage that existed for geographical-focused venture funds is gone, and there is now functionally a nationwide market for VC investments compared to the archipelago of local regions that existed before.

There is still room for the absolute earliest capital in these regions, accelerators and pre-PMF funds that will invest in founders with no idea for a startup yet. For all other funds larger than a few million though, the transition is clear: they will likely build upon a successful portfolio company or an area of interest and become vertical-focused. The knowledge arbitrage for an industry vertical is much more defensible than knowledge that the 279 should be avoided at certain times of the day in downtown Pittsburgh or that Tomukun is the best Korean BBQ in Ann Arbor.

Editor-at-large Mike Butcher has also been getting at this question through a series of Extra Crunch surveys with investors across key European startup cities. This week he talked to dozens of investors across Paris and Berlin. The unsurprising theme is that basically everyone is investing across the Continent already, and maybe well beyond. At the same time, many investors in each city expressed a strong belief in the particular city where they are located. Maybe the future unicorns coming out of Europe won’t have massive headquarters in their home cities, but these companies will still be arising from the ether of local people who work in technology — so it won’t end up feeling that different? Here’s how Berlin-based Mathias Ockenfels of Vienna-headquartered Speedinvest explains it:

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
The Network Effects team works from Speedinvest offices in Vienna, London, Berlin and Munich. We’ve made about 75% of our investments within these hubs, and more than half specifically in London and Berlin. While a local focus is very important to us, we do not shy away from making investments in what other investors may consider “fringe” locations, such as Utah in the U.S., Helsinki or Warsaw.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not)? Which founders?
Berlin continues to be a major hub for fintechs  — despite not having a strong finance ecosystem. It also has a strong base of consumer tech companies, such as Zalando, Lieferando/TakeAway and Delivery Hero, but has seen a surge in more B2B-oriented startups in recent years.

I believe the startup ecosystem in Berlin will continue to grow and become even more diverse, as it attracts great talent from across the world and becomes a go-to “playground” for entrepreneurs. As the first batch of successful B2B founders are exiting their companies and inspiring other entrepreneurs, I expect more opportunities in the B2B space in the future.

Madrid and Barcelona-based investors, Mike is heading your way next — tell him your views on your cities and your own plans via this link.

Around TechCrunch

Triller CEO Mike Lu to talk taking on TikTok at Disrupt 2020

Fabletics’ Adam Goldenberg and Kevin Hart to talk D2C at Disrupt 2020

Laura Deming, Frederik Groce, Amish Jani, Jessica Verrilli and Vanessa Larco are coming to Disrupt

How to craft the right pitch deck for your company at Disrupt 2020

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

Learn how to raise your first dollars at Disrupt 2020

Some of the brightest minds in Europe are joining us at Disrupt

Welcome to the most important panel on product development in the history of Disrupt

Across the week

TechCrunch

On the matter of who was really behind @VCBrags

Banks aren’t as stupid as enterprise AI and fintech entrepreneurs think

There’s a growing movement where startup founders look to exit to community

The startup world needs a ‘Black Minds Matter’ awakening

Building paths to funding for Black female founders

Dear Sophie: Can we sponsor an H-1B university researcher for an EB-1B green card?

Extra Crunch

Edtech startups find demand from an unlikely customer: Public schools

Your first sales hire should be a missionary, not a mercenary

Jeff Lawson on API startups, picking a market and getting dissed by VCs

What does GPT-3 mean for the future of the legal profession?

Media Roundup: Patreon joins unicorn club, Facebook could ban news in Australia, more

Venture capital LPs are the missing link to solving Silicon Valley’s diversity problem

#EquityPod: Edtech is the new SaaS

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.

The whole crew was back, with Natasha Mascarenhas and Danny Crichton and myself chattering, with Chris Gates behind the scenes making it all work. An extra shout-out to Natasha this week as we spent a lot of time talking about edtech, a category that she spearheads for us and has brought to the show. It’s a big deal!

We’re on YouTube now, don’t forget, and with that, let’s get into the news:

And with that, we are nearly at the weekend, which is a long one thanks to a holiday, so expect Equity Monday to be, in fact, Equity Tuesday next week. Hugs and good vibes from the Equity Crew!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

How to craft the right pitch deck for your company at Disrupt 2020

Your startup is special and different, and you need to explain that to distracted investors in just a few short slides. The pandemic has added to your challenge, because more investors have been looking through more decks than ever online — and spending less time on each.

To help you create the right fundraising presentation, we’ve put together a panel of expert investors at Disrupt 2020 from September 14-18 who have been backing early-stage companies through good times and bad. We’re also providing daily pitch deck teardown sessions, that this session can serve as a guide for (here’s how to submit your own if you’ve already registered for Disrupt 2020).

Ann Miura-Ko is the cofounder of Floodgate and a leading early-stage investor (and computer security expert) with investments including Lyft, Xamarin, Clover Health, Clever and many more. She’s been one of our most popular guest authors and speakers over the years, covering topics like building a minimum viable company and finding the inflection point.

Lo Toney is a long-time founder and product leader who spent much of this past decade investing with Comcast Ventures’s Catalyst Fund and Google Ventures, before founding Plexo Capital in 2018 (and serving as a mentor at Mucker Capital during this time). His focus includes investing in diverse founders globally, as well as backing other funds with the same mission. Some of his recent investment include PlayVS, Replicated and StyleSeat on the company side, and Precursor, Boldstart, Female Founders Fund and WorkBench on the fund side.

Rajan Anandan is the leader of Surge, Sequoia Capital India’s “rapid scale-up” program for founders in India and Southeast Asia. He previously served as Google’s top business executive in the region for more than 8 years, held executive roles in Microsoft and Dell operations before that, and has invested in dozens of startups in India and around the world.

Join us at this pitchdeck teardown and so much more at Disrupt 2020 happening from September 14-18. Grab your Disrupt Digital Pro pass today and during our Labor Day Flash Sale, you can save an extra $100! Hope to see you there!