Shoe startups aren’t dragging their feet

Good thing Carrie Bradshaw, the shoe-loving heroine of Sex and the City, wasn’t a footwear venture capitalist. The high-heeled, high-priced and hard-to-walk-in pairs beloved by the TV icon are pretty much the least fundable concept in the shoe startup space lately.

Instead, when they do dip their toe in the footwear space, venture investors have been putting a premium on comfort.

At least that’s what recent funding records indicate. Over the past year-and-a-half, investors have tied up roughly $170 million in an assortment of shoe-related startups, according to an analysis of Crunchbase data. The vast majority is going to sellers and designers of footwear that people might actually want to walk in.

Top funding recipients are a varied bunch, including everything from used sneaker marketplaces to high-end designers to toddler play shoes. Startups are also experimenting with little-used materials, turning used plastic bottles, merino wool and other substances into chic wearables.

Below, we look at how startups are leveraging market trends to get a foot in the door.

Growth market

It should be noted that recent footwear funding activity comes on the heels of some positive developments for the shoe industry.

First, this is a huge and growing industry. One recent report pegged the global footwear market at $246 billion in 2017, with annual growth rates of around 4.5 percent.

Second, public markets are strong. Shares of the world’s most valuable footwear company — Nike — have climbed more than 50 percent over the past nine months to reach a market cap of nearly $130 billion. Stocks of several smaller rivals, including Adidas, have also performed well.

Third, men are spending more on footwear. Though they’ve long been stereotyped as the gender with more restrained shoe-buying habits, men are putting more money into footwear and could be on track to close the spending gap.

Sneakering in

Both men and women are spending more on sneakers, and venture capitalists have taken notice. Sneakers and sneaker-related businesses account for the majority of footwear startup funding, as consumers increasingly opt for more casual, sportier styles.

Much of the innovation is in the sale and design of pricey, high-performance shoes. The largest footwear-focused round in recent months, for instance, went to GOAT, operator of an online sneaker marketplace that specializes in rare and high-end shoes. The three-year-old, Los Angeles-based company secured a $60 million Series C in February.

Other sneaker companies to raise funding recently include StockX, an auction-style GOAT competitor; Stadium Goods, a streetwear retailer; and Super Heroic, which makes high-performance athletic shoes for children.

The spike in sneaker funding comes amid a growth streak for the sector. As mentioned previously, much of that is driven by men. However, one other bullish sneaker trend footwear analysts point to is the changing buying habits of women. Driven perhaps by a desire to walk more than a few blocks without being in pain, we’re buying fewer high heels and more sneakers.

Stylish and eco-friendly

Demand for more comfortable footwear doesn’t only translate into more sneaker sales. Venture investors also see potential in other comfy shoe startups, particularly those with eco-friendly options.

In this camp is Allbirds, a maker of merino wool shoes in casual styles that has raised more than $27 million to date. Meanwhile, Rothy’s, which makes shoes out of recycled plastic bottles and sells them for around $125 a pair, has brought in $7 million.

Slippers are also a fundable space, as evidenced by the $2 million seed round last fall for Birdies, a maker of footwear for people who want to pad around the house in slippers while also looking stylish.

And as previously noted, it doesn’t look like high heel-focused startups have been kicking up a lot of capital lately. However, designers that offer varied heel heights are still scoring some big rounds. This category includes Tamara Mellon, a two-year-old brand that has raised more than $40 million to scale up a shoe design portfolio that runs the gamut from flats to spike heels.

But does it make money?

Recent history shows you can make a good exit with a shoe startup. And you can also flop or stagnate.

One of the more noticeable recent flops was Vancouver-based Shoes.com, an online shoe retailer that shuttered last year and filed for bankruptcy following disappointing sales.

Others found they weren’t as good a fit for today’s consumers as hoped. Most recently, Shoes of Prey, a made-to-order women’s shoe startup that raised more than $25 million, secured a small bridge round to keep operations afloat. A few years earlier, ShoeDazzle, a celebrity-backed shoe subscription service with more than $60 million in funding, sold at a steep markdown.

Meanwhile, developers of 3D printing and scanning technology are stepping up the pace of M&A. In April, Nike snapped up Invertex, a seed-funded startup that specialized in 3D foot-scanning. Last year, Aetrex Worldwide, a leading maker of therapeutic footwear, bought  Sols, a venture-backed maker of 3D-printed custom orthotics and insoles.

Granted, it’s hard to imagine an episode about Carrie Bradshaw shelling out for custom orthotics. But in the exit-driven world of startup financing, it seems clear that Manolo Blahniks are out, while sneakers and insoles are in.

Hydrate, intoxicate, caffeinate, repeat: Meet the startups pouring the future

These days, it seems like everyone with extra cash has some kind of pricey drinking habit. It might be fine wine, craft beer or cocktails. Or it could come in the form of coconut water, cold-pressed juice or the latest frothy caffeinated concoction.

No matter what your preference, startups and their backers likely have you covered.

In a follow-up to our story earlier this month about food startups gobbling up venture funding, Crunchbase News is taking a look at beverage companies guzzling capital. We found that while drinkables receive a smaller portion of funding than edibles, it’s still a sector that draws hundreds of millions of dollars in annual investment.

Where are investors pouring all that money? Some unlikely places. For instance, it appears the largest funding recipient so far this year is a China-based chain called Hey Tea that’s well known for a specialty called cheese tea. (An unfortunately named, slightly salty iced drink that a Crunchbase News team sampling determined was actually pretty tasty.)

Besides cheese tea, we found startups are also raising millions to bottle deep ocean water, customize instant coffee and make your party punch more portable.

Bottom line: So long as there are profit margins to squeeze out, the quest continues for new ways to get you drunk, hydrated or caffeinated. Below, we look at what’s trending on all these fronts.

Hydrate

Venture investors and startup entrepreneurs are betting there are highly scalable businesses to be built in doling out more exotic varieties of water, coconut-based beverages and other drinks to hydrate calorie-conscious consumers.

An analysis of Crunchbase data unearthed at least a dozen companies developing new varieties of water and fitness drinks that have raised funding in recent quarters.

Funding data reveals that investors still see the potential for significant returns from coconut water. The largest round in the hydration category went to Harmless Harvest, a seller of fair trade, organic coconut water and probiotic drinks that recently raised $30 million. The funding comes as the sector is on a tear, with the U.S. spending alone on coconut water projected to reach $2 billion next year.

We also saw a couple of deals involving startups offering alternatives to bottled or tap water. The most heavily capitalized one to receive funding in the past couple of years appears to be FloWater, a Denver-based startup that provides pure water refill stations and has raised about $8 million to date. Meanwhile, bottled water is still generating attention, too, as evidenced by the $5.5 million round late last year for Kona Deep, a bottler of deep ocean water.

Intoxicate

You may need water to survive, but if you’re looking to secure venture capital, it helps to throw in a bit of alcohol.

Since last year, venture investors have poured more than $300 million into an assortment of companies providing alcoholic beverages, drinking gadgetry and services to connect consumers with booze. Crunchbase News highlighted about a dozen that raised sizable rounds, along with one hangover cure startup.

Some of the larger funding rounds are for companies that don’t make alcohol; instead, these startups offer easier ways to select and buy it. These include Vivino, a popular wine rating app, as well as Drizly and Saucey, two ordering and delivery services.

There are emerging brands in the mix, too, including BeatBox Beverages, a purveyor of party punch in portable packages; Milestone Brands, a producer of organic tequilas and other spirits; and Plum, which has a gadget for dispensing good wine by the glass.

Caffeinate

If too much drinking makes you sleepy, let caffeine come to the rescue. Venture investors, known to be heavy consumers of caffeine, also seem to like investing in the stuff.

Using Crunchbase data, we highlighted more than a dozen companies in the coffee and tea space that have secured good-sized rounds in roughly the past year. They range from fast-growing chains, like China’s Hey Tea, to packaged drinks, like non-dairy blended drink maker Willow Cup, to instant beverage innovators, like Sudden Coffee. We even found a blockchain company in the mix, Crypto N Kafe, which aims to connect coffee farmers and consumers directly.

It’s not a bad area for exits, either. The most recent significant exit was Blue Bottle Coffee, a venture-backed brand known for really, really strong brews that sold a majority stake to Nestlé last September at a valuation of over $700 million.

Nourish

One additional beverage category in which we saw a high level of activity was in meal-replacement and nutrition drinks. Overall, we found at least a half-dozen companies developing nutritional drinks that have raised funding in recent quarters.

In this sector, probably the best-known startup name is Soylent, which has raised over $70 million for a line of drinks marketed to consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to sit down for a traditional meal. We also found a potential rival, meal-replacement beverage maker Ample, which secured angel funding last month.

The biggest round in the past couple of months for the space, however, went to REBBL, a startup that raised $20 million in May for its line of bottled drinks featuring health-promoting herbs, protein and coconut.

Mix it all up: Caffeinated, full and buzzed

Beverage investments, like everything else, aren’t always a home run for VCs. The demise of juicer startup Juicero last year offers a cautionary tale that large rounds don’t always translate into compelling business models.

That said, beverage purveyors don’t have to worry much about demand drying up. People will always be thirsty. And while we typically quench our thirst with simple tap or filtered water, where’s the fun (or the massive exit potential) in that?

Methodology

Our analysis focused primarily on companies that have secured funding in the past year; however, we also included some rounds outside those parameters that were exceptionally large or noteworthy in other ways.

VCs serve up a large helping of cash to startups disrupting food

Here is what your daily menu might look like if recently funded startups have their way.

You’ll start the day with a nice, lightly caffeinated cup of cheese tea. Chase away your hangover with a cold bottle of liver-boosting supplement. Then slice up a few strawberries, fresh-picked from the corner shipping container.

Lunch is full of options. Perhaps a tuna sandwich made with a plant-based, tuna-free fish. Or, if you’re feeling more carnivorous, grab a grilled chicken breast fresh from the lab that cultured its cells, while crunching on a side of mushroom chips. And for extra protein, how about a brownie?

Dinner might be a pizza so good you send your compliments to the chef — only to discover the chef is a robot. For dessert, have some gummy bears. They’re high in fiber with almost no sugar.

Sound terrifying? Tasty? Intriguing? If you checked tasty and intriguing, then here is some good news: The concoctions highlighted above are all products available (or under development) at food and beverage startups that have raised venture and seed funding this past year.

These aren’t small servings of capital, either. A Crunchbase News analysis of venture funding for the food and beverage category found that startups in the space gobbled up more than $3 billion globally in disclosed investment over the past 12 months. That includes a broad mix of supersize deals, tiny seed rounds and everything in-between.

Spending several hours looking at all these funding rounds leaves one with a distinct sense that eating habits are undergoing a great deal of flux. And while we can’t predict what the menu of the future will really hold, we can highlight some of the trends. For this initial installment in our two-part series, we’ll start with foods. Next week, we’ll zero in on beverages.

Chickenless nuggets and fishless tuna

For protein lovers disenchanted with commercial livestock farming, the future looks good. At least eight startups developing plant-based and alternative proteins closed rounds in the past year, focused on everything from lab meat to fishless fish to fast-food nuggets.

New investments add momentum to what was already a pretty hot space. To date, more than $600 million in known funding has gone to what we’ve dubbed the “alt-meat” sector, according to Crunchbase data. Actual investment levels may be quite a bit higher since strategic investors don’t always reveal round size.

In recent months, we’ve seen particularly strong interest in the lab-grown meat space. At least three startups in this area — Memphis Meats, SuperMeat and Wild Type — raised multi-million dollar rounds this year. That could be a signal that investors have grown comfortable with the concept, and now it’s more a matter of who will be early to market with a tasty and affordable finished product.

Makers of meatless versions of common meat dishes are also attracting capital. Two of the top funding recipients in our data set include Seattle Food Tech, which is working to cost-effectively mass-produce meatless chicken nuggets, and Good Catch, which wants to hook consumers on fishless seafoods. While we haven’t sampled their wares, it does seem like they have chosen some suitable dishes to riff on. After all, in terms of taste, both chicken nuggets and tuna salad are somewhat removed from their original animal protein sources, making it seemingly easier to sneak in a veggie substitute.

Robot chefs

Another trend we saw catching on with investors is robot chefs. Modern cooking is already a gadget-driven process, so it’s not surprising investors see this as an area ripe for broad adoption.

Pizza, the perennial takeout favorite, seems to be a popular area for future takeover by robots, with at least two companies securing rounds in recent months. Silicon Valley-based Zume, which raised $48 million last year, uses robots for tasks like spreading sauce and moving pies in and out of the oven. France’s EKIM, meanwhile, recently opened what it describes as a fully autonomous restaurant staffed by pizza robots cooking as customers watch.

Salad, pizza’s healthier companion side dish, is also getting roboticized. Just this week, Chowbotics, a developer of robots for food service whose lineup includes Sally the salad robot, announced an $11 million Series A round.

Those aren’t the only players. We’ve put together a more complete list of recently launched or funded robot food startups here.

Beyond sugar

Sugar substitutes aren’t exactly a new area of innovation. Diet Rite, often credited as the original diet soda, hit the market in 1958. Since then, we’ve had 60 years of mass-marketing for low-calorie sweeteners, from aspartame to stevia.

It’s not over. In recent quarters, we’ve seen a raft of funding rounds for startups developing new ways to reduce or eliminate sugar in many of the foods we’ve come to love. On the dessert and candy front, Siren Snacks and SmartSweets are looking to turn favorite indulgences like brownies and gummy bears into healthy snack options.

The quest for good-for-you sugar also continues. The latest funding recipient in this space appears to be Bonumuse, which is working to commercialize two rare sugars, Tagatose and Allulose, as lower-calorie and potentially healthier substitutes for table sugar. We’ve compiled a list of more sugar-reduction-related startups here.

Where is it all headed?

It’s tough to tell which early-stage food startups will take off and which will wind up in the scrap bin. But looking in aggregate at what they’re cooking up, it looks like the meal of the future will be high in protein, low in sugar and prepared by a robot.

US startups off to a strong M&A run in 2018

With Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub this week, we can now decisively declare a trend: 2018 is shaping up as a darn good year for U.S. venture-backed M&A.

So far this year, acquirers have spent just over $20 billion in disclosed-price purchases of U.S. VC-funded companies, according to Crunchbase data. That’s about 80 percent of the 2017 full-year total, which is pretty impressive, considering we’re barely five months into 2018.

If one included unreported purchase prices, the totals would be quite a bit higher. Fewer than 20 percent of acquisitions in our data set came with reported prices.1 Undisclosed prices are mostly for smaller deals, but not always. We put together a list of a dozen undisclosed price M&A transactions this year involving companies snapped up by large-cap acquirers after raising more than $20 million in venture funding.

The big deals

The deals that everyone talks about, however, are the ones with the big and disclosed price tags. And we’ve seen quite a few of those lately.

As we approach the half-year mark, nothing comes close to topping the GitHub deal, which ranks as one of the biggest acquisitions of a private, U.S. venture-backed company ever. The last deal to top it was Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp in 2014, according to Crunchbase.

Of course, GitHub is a unique story with an astounding growth trajectory. Its platform for code development, most popular among programmers, has drawn 28 million users. For context, that’s more than the entire population of Australia.

Still, let’s not forget about the other big deals announced in 2018. We list the top six below:

Flatiron Health, a provider of software used by cancer care providers and researchers, ranks as the second-biggest VC-backed acquisition of 2018. Its purchaser, Roche, was an existing stakeholder who apparently liked what it saw enough to buy up all remaining shares.

Next up is job and employer review site Glassdoor, a company familiar to many of those who’ve looked for a new post or handled hiring in the past decade. The 11-year-old company found a fan in Tokyo-based Recruit Holdings, a provider of recruitment and human resources services that also owns leading job site Indeed.com.

Meanwhile, Impact Biomedicines, a cancer therapy developer that sold to Celgene for $1.1 billion, could end up delivering an even larger exit. The acquisition deal includes potential milestone payments approaching nearly $6 billion.

Deal counts look flat

Not all metrics are trending up, however. While acquirers are doing bigger deals, they don’t appear to be buying a larger number of startups.

Crunchbase shows 216 startups in our data set that sold this year. That’s roughly on par with the pace of dealmaking in the year-ago period, which had 222 M&A exits using similar parameters. (For all of 2017, there were 508 startup acquisitions that met our parameters.2)

Below, we look at M&A counts for the past five calendar years:

Looking at prior years for comparison, the takeaway seems to be that M&A deal counts for 2018 look just fine, but we’re not seeing a big spike.

What’s changed?

The more notable shift from 2017 seems to be buyers’ bigger appetite for unicorn-scale deals. Last year, we saw just one acquisition of a software company for more than a billion dollars — Cisco’s $3.7 billion purchase of AppDynamics — and that was only after the performance management software provider filed to go public. The only other billion-plus deal was PetSmart’s $3.4 billion acquisition of pet food delivery service Chewy, which previously raised early venture funding and later private equity backing.

There are plenty of reasons why acquirers could be spending more freely this year. Some that come to mind: Stock indexes are chugging along, and U.S. legislators have slashed corporate tax rates. U.S. companies with large cash hordes held overseas, like Apple and Microsoft, also received new financial incentives to repatriate that money.

That’s not to say companies are doing acquisitions for these reasons. There’s no obligation to spend repatriated cash in any particular way. Many prefer share buybacks or sitting on piles of money. Nonetheless, the combination of these two things — more money and less uncertainty around tax reform — are certainly not a bad thing for M&A.

High public valuations, particularly for tech, also help. Microsoft shares, for instance, have risen by more than 44 percent in the past year. That means that it took about a third fewer shares to buy GitHub this month than it would have a year ago. (Of course, GitHub’s valuation probably rose as well, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

Paying retail

Overall, this is not looking like an M&A market for bargain hunters.

Large-cap acquirers seem willing to pay retail price for startups they like, given the competitive environment. After all, the IPO window is wide open. Plus, fast-growing unicorns have the option of staying private and raising money from SoftBank or a panoply of other highly capitalized investors.

Meanwhile, acquirers themselves are competing for desirable startups. Microsoft’s winning bid for GitHub reportedly followed overtures by Google, Atlassian and a host of other would-be buyers.

But even in the most buoyant climate, one rule of acquiring remains true: It’s hard to turn down $7.5 billion.

  1. The data set included companies that have raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing within the past five years.
  2. For the prior year comparisons, including the chart, the data set consisted of companies acquired in a specified year that raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing no more than five years before the middle of that year.

Scaling startups are setting up secondary hubs in these cities

America’s mayors have spent the past nine months tripping over each other to curry favor with Amazon.com in its high-profile search for a second headquarters.

More quietly, however, a similar story has been playing out in startup-land. Many of the most valuable venture-backed companies are venturing outside their high-cost headquarters and setting up secondary hubs in smaller cities.

Where are they going? Nashville is pretty popular. So is Phoenix. Portland and Raleigh also are seeing some jobs. A number of companies also have a high number of remote offerings, seeking candidates with coveted skills who don’t want to relocate.

Those are some of the findings from a Crunchbase News analysis of the geographic hiring practices of U.S. unicorns. Since most of these companies are based in high-cost locations, like the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and New York, we were looking to see if there is a pattern of setting up offices in smaller, cheaper cities. (For more on survey technique, see Methodology section below.)

Here is a look at some of the hotspots.

Nashville

One surprise finding was the prominence of Nashville among secondary locations for startup offices.

We found at least four unicorns scaling up Nashville offices, plus another three with growing operations in or around other Tennessee cities. Here are some of the Tennessee-loving startups:

When we referred to Nashville’s popularity with unicorns as surprising, that was largely because the city isn’t known as a major hub for tech startups or venture funding. That said, it has a lot of attributes that make for a practical and desirable location for a secondary office.

Nashville’s attractions include high quality of life ratings, a growing population and economy, mild climate and lots of live music. Home prices and overall cost of living are also still far below Silicon Valley and New York, even though the Nashville real estate market has been on a tear for the past several years. An added perk for workers: Tennessee has no income tax on wages.

Phoenix

Phoenix is another popular pick for startup offices, particularly West Coast companies seeking a lower-cost hub for customer service and other operations that require a large staff.

In the chart below, we look at five unicorns with significant staffing in the desert city:

 

Affordability, ease of expansion and a large employable population look like big factors in Phoenix’s appeal. Homes and overall cost of living are a lot cheaper than the big coastal cities. And there’s plenty of room to sprawl.

One article about a new office opening also cited low job turnover rates as an attractive Phoenix-area attribute, which is an interesting notion. Startup hubs like San Francisco and New York see a lot of job-hopping, particularly for people with in-demand skill sets. Scaling companies may be looking for people who measure their job tenure in years rather than months.

Those aren’t the only places

Nashville and Phoenix aren’t the only hotspots for unicorns setting up secondary offices. Many other cities are also seeing some scaling startup activity.

Let’s start with North Carolina. The Research Triangle region is known for having a lot of STEM grads, so it makes sense that deep tech companies headquartered elsewhere might still want a local base. One such company is cybersecurity unicorn Tanium, which has a lot of technical job openings in the area. Another is Docker, developer of software containerization technology, which has open positions in Raleigh.

The Orlando metro area stood out mostly due to Robinhood, the zero-fee stock and crypto trading platform that recently hit the $5 billion valuation mark. The Silicon Valley-based company has a significant number of open positions in Lake Mary, an Orlando suburb, including HR and compliance jobs.

Portland, meanwhile, just drew another crypto-loving unicorn, digital currency transaction platform Coinbase. The San Francisco-based company recently opened an office in the Oregon city and is currently in hiring mode.

Anywhere with a screen

But you don’t have to be anywhere in particular to score jobs at many fast-growing startups. A lot of unicorns have a high number of remote positions, including specialized technical roles that may be hard to fill locally.

GitHub, which makes tools developers can use to collaborate remotely on projects, does a particularly good job of practicing what it codes. A notable number of engineering jobs open at the San Francisco-based company are available to remote workers, and other departments also have some openings for telecommuters.

Others with a smattering of remote openings include Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity provider CrowdStrike, enterprise software developer Apttus and also Docker.

Not everyone is doing it

Of course, not every unicorn is opening large secondary offices. Many prefer to keep staff closer to home base, seeking to lure employees with chic workplaces and lavish perks. Other companies find that when they do expand, it makes strategic sense to go to another high-cost location.

Still, the secondary hub phenomenon may offer a partial antidote to complaints that a few regions are hogging too much of the venture capital pie. While unicorns still overwhelmingly headquarter in a handful of cities, at least they’re spreading their wings and providing more jobs in other places, too.

Methodology

For this analysis, we were looking at U.S. unicorns with secondary offices in other North American cities. We began with a list of 125 U.S.-based companies and looked at open positions advertised on their websites, focusing on job location.

We excluded job offerings related to representing a local market. For instance, a San Francisco company seeking a sales rep in Chicago to sell to Chicago customers doesn’t count. Instead, we looked for openings for team members handling core operations, including engineering, finances and company-wide customer support. We also excluded secondary offices outside of North America.

Additionally, we were looking principally for companies expanding into lower-cost areas. In many cases, we did see companies strategically adding staff in other high-cost locations, such as New York and Silicon Valley.

A final note pertains to Austin, Texas. We did see several unicorns based elsewhere with job openings in Austin. However, we did not include the city in the sections above because Austin, although a lower-cost location than Silicon Valley, may also be characterized as a large, mature technology and startup hub in its own right.

Here is where CEOs of heavily funded startups went to school

CEOs of funded startups tend to be a well-educated bunch, at least when it comes to university degrees.

Yes, it’s true college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates can still do well. But Crunchbase data shows that most startup chief executives have an advanced degree, commonly from a well-known and prestigious university.

Earlier this month, Crunchbase News looked at U.S. universities with strong track records for graduating future CEOs of funded companies. This unearthed some findings that, while interesting, were not especially surprising. Stanford and Harvard topped the list, and graduates of top-ranked business schools were particularly well-represented.

In this next installment of our CEO series, we narrowed the data set. Specifically, we looked at CEOs of U.S. companies funded in the past three years that have raised at least $100 million in total venture financing. Our intent was to see whether educational backgrounds of unicorn and near-unicorn leaders differ markedly from the broad startup CEO population.

Sort of, but not really

Here’s the broad takeaway of our analysis: Most CEOs of well-funded startups do have degrees from prestigious universities, and there are a lot of Harvard and Stanford grads. However, chief executives of the companies in our current data set are, educationally speaking, a pretty diverse bunch with degrees from multiple continents and all regions of the U.S.

In total, our data set includes 193 private U.S. companies that raised $100 million or more and closed a VC round in the past three years. In the chart below, we look at the universities most commonly attended by their CEOs:1

The rankings aren’t hugely different from the broader population of funded U.S. startups. In that data set, we also found Harvard and Stanford vying for the top slots, followed mostly by Ivy League schools and major research universities.

For heavily funded startups, we also found a high proportion of business school degrees. All of the University of Pennsylvania alum on the list attended its Wharton School of Business. More than half of Harvard-affiliated grads attended its business school. MBAs were a popular credential among other schools on the list that offer the degree.

Where the most heavily funded startup CEOs studied

When it comes to the most heavily funded startups, the degree mix gets quirkier. That makes sense, given that we looked at just 20 companies.

In the chart below, we look at alumni affiliations for CEOs of these companies, all of which have raised hundreds of millions or billions in venture and growth financing:

One surprise finding from the U.S. startup data set was the prevalence of Canadian university grads. Three CEOs on the list are alums of the University of Waterloo . Others attended multiple well-known universities. The list also offers fresh proof that it’s not necessary to graduate from college to raise billions. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann just finished his degree last year, 15 years after he started. That didn’t stop the co-working giant from securing more than $7 billion in venture and growth financing.

  1. Several CEOs attended more than one university on the list.

Shared housing startups are taking off

When young adults leave the parental nest, they often follow a predictable pattern. First, move in with roommates. Then graduate to a single or couple’s pad. After that comes the big purchase of a single-family home. A lawnmower might be next.

Looking at the new home construction industry, one would have good reason to presume those norms were holding steady. About two-thirds of new homes being built in the U.S. this year are single-family dwellings, complete with tidy yards and plentiful parking.

In startup-land, however, the presumptions about where housing demand is going looks a bit different. Home sharing is on the rise, along with more temporary lease options, high-touch service and smaller spaces in sought-after urban locations.

Seeking roommates and venture capital

Crunchbase News analysis of residential-focused real estate startups uncovered a raft of companies with a shared and temporary housing focus that have raised funding in the past year or so.

This isn’t a U.S.-specific phenomenon. Funded shared and short-term housing startups are cropping up across the globe, from China to Europe to Southeast Asia. For this article, however, we’ll focus on U.S. startups. In the chart below, we feature several that have raised recent rounds.

Notice any commonalities? Yes, the startups listed are all based in either New York or the San Francisco Bay Area, two metropolises associated with scarce, pricey housing. But while these two metro areas offer the bulk of startups’ living spaces, they’re also operating in other cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

From white picket fences to high-rise partitions

The early developers of the U.S. suburban planned communities of the 1950s and 60s weren’t just selling houses. They were selling a vision of the American Dream, complete with quarter-acre lawns, dishwashers and spacious garages.

By the same token, today’s shared housing startups are selling another vision. It’s not just about renting a room; it’s also about being part of a community, making friends and exploring a new city.

One of the slogans for HubHaus is “rent one of our rooms and find your tribe.” Founded less than three years ago, the company now manages about 80 houses in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, matching up roommates and planning group events.

Starcity pitches itself as an antidote to loneliness. “Social isolation is a growing epidemic—we solve this problem by bringing people together to create meaningful connections,” the company homepage states.

The San Francisco company also positions its model as a partial solution to housing shortages as it promotes high-density living. It claims to increase living capacity by three times the normal apartment building.

Costs and benefits

Shared housing startups are generally operating in the most expensive U.S. housing markets, so it’s difficult to categorize their offerings as cheap. That said, the cost is typically lower than a private apartment.

Mostly, the aim seems to be providing something affordable for working professionals willing to accept a smaller private living space in exchange for a choice location, easy move-in and a ready-made social network.

At Starcity, residents pay $2,000 to $2,300 a month, all expenses included, depending on length of stay. At HomeShare, which converts two-bedroom luxury flats to three-bedrooms with partitions, monthly rents start at about $1,000 and go up for larger spaces.

Shared and temporary housing startups also purport to offer some savings through flexible-term leases, typically with minimum stays of one to three months. Plus, they’re typically furnished, with no need to set up Wi-Fi or pay power bills.

Looking ahead

While it’s too soon to pick winners in the latest crop of shared and temporary housing startups, it’s not far-fetched to envision the broad market as one that could eventually attract much larger investment and valuations. After all, Airbnb has ascended to a $30 billion private market value for its marketplace of vacation and short-term rentals. And housing shortages in major cities indicate there’s plenty of demand for non-Airbnb options.

While we’re focusing here on residential-focused startups, it’s also worth noting that the trend toward temporary, flexible, high-service models has already gained a lot of traction for commercial spaces. Highly funded startups in this niche include Industrious, a provider of flexible-term, high-end office spaces, Knotel, a provider of customized workplaces, and Breather, which provides meeting and work rooms on demand. Collectively, those three companies have raised about $300 million to date.

At first glance, it may seem shared housing startups are scaling up at an off time. The millennial generation (born roughly 1980 to 1994) can no longer be stereotyped as a massive band of young folks new to “adulting.” The average member of the generation is 28, and older millennials are mid-to-late thirties. Many even own lawnmowers.

No worries. Gen Z, the group born after 1995, is another huge generation. So even if millennials age out of shared housing, demographic forecasts indicate there will plenty of twenty-somethings to rent those partitioned-off rooms.

These schools graduate the most funded startup CEOs

There is no degree required to be a CEO of a venture-backed company. But it likely helps to graduate from Harvard, Stanford or one of about a dozen other prominent universities that churn out a high number of top startup executives.

That is the central conclusion from our latest graduation season data crunch. For this exercise, Crunchbase News took a look at top U.S. university affiliations for CEOs of startups that raised $1 million or more in the past year.

In many ways, the findings weren’t too different from what we unearthed almost a year ago, looking at the university backgrounds of funded startup founders. However, there were a few twists. Here are some key findings:

Harvard fares better in its rivalry with Stanford when it comes to educating future CEOs than founders. The two universities essentially tied for first place in the CEO alum ranking. (Stanford was well ahead for founders.)

Business schools are big. While MBA programs may be seeing fewer applicants, the degree remains quite popular among startup CEOs.  At Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, more than half of the CEOs on our list graduated as business school alum.

University affiliation is influential but not determinative for CEOs. The 20 schools featured on our list graduated CEOs of more than 800 global startups that raised $1M or more in roughly the past year, a minority of the total.
Below, we flesh out the findings in more detail.

Where startup CEOs went to school

First, let’s start with school rankings. There aren’t many big surprises here. Harvard and Stanford far outpace any other institutions on the CEO list. Each counts close to 150 known alum among chief executives of startups that raised $1 million or more over the past year.

MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia round out the top five. Ivy League schools and large research universities constitute most of the remaining institutions on our list of about twenty with a strong track record for graduating CEOs. The numbers are laid out in the chart below:

Traditional MBA popular with startup CEOs

Yes, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. And Steve Jobs ditched college after a semester. But they are the exceptions in CEO-land.

The typical path for the leader of a venture-backed company is a bit more staid. Degrees from prestigious universities abound. And MBA degrees, particularly from top-ranked programs, are a pretty popular credential.

Top business schools enroll only a small percentage of students at their respective universities. However, these institutions produce a disproportionately large share of CEOs. Wharton School of Business degrees, for instance, accounted for the majority of CEO alumni from the University of Pennsylvania . Harvard Business School also graduated more than half of the Harvard-affiliated CEOs. And at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, the share was nearly half.

CEO alumni background is really quite varied

While the educational backgrounds of startup CEOs do show a lot of overlap, there is also plenty of room for variance. About 3,000 U.S. startups and nearly 5,000 global startups with listed CEOs raised $1 million or more since last May. In both cases, those startups were largely led by people who didn’t attend a school on the list above.

Admittedly, the math for this is a bit fuzzy. A big chunk of CEO profiles in Crunchbase (probably more than a third) don’t include a university affiliation. Even taking this into account, however, it looks like more than half of the U.S. CEOs were not graduates of schools on the short list. Meanwhile, for non-U.S. CEOs, only a small number attended a school on the list.

So, with that, some words of inspiration for graduates: If your goal is to be a funded startup CEO, the surest path is probably to launch a startup. Degrees matter, but they’re not determinative.

The formula behind San Francisco’s startup success

Why has San Francisco’s startup scene generated so many hugely valuable companies over the past decade?

That’s the question we asked over the past few weeks while analyzing San Francisco startup funding, exit, and unicorn creation data. After all, it’s not as if founders of Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Dropbox and Twitter had to get office space within a couple of miles of each other.

We hadn’t thought our data-centric approach would yield a clear recipe for success. San Francisco private and newly public unicorns are a diverse bunch, numbering more than 30, in areas ranging from ridesharing to online lending. Surely the path to billion-plus valuations would be equally varied.

But surprisingly, many of their secrets to success seem formulaic. The most valuable San Francisco companies to arise in the era of the smartphone have a number of shared traits, including a willingness and ability to post massive, sustained losses; high-powered investors; and a preponderance of easy-to-explain business models.

No, it’s not a recipe that’s likely replicable without talent, drive, connections and timing. But if you’ve got those ingredients, following the principles below might provide a good shot at unicorn status.

First you conquer, then you earn

Losing money is not a bug. It’s a feature.

First, lose money until you’ve left your rivals in the dust. This is the most important rule. It is the collective glue that holds the narratives of San Francisco startup success stories together. And while companies in other places have thrived with the same practice, arguably San Franciscans do it best.

It’s no secret that a majority of the most valuable internet and technology companies citywide lose gobs of money or post tiny profits relative to valuations. Uber, called the world’s most valuable startup, reportedly lost $4.5 billion last year. Dropbox lost more than $100 million after losing more than $200 million the year before and more than $300 million the year before that. Even Airbnb, whose model of taking a share of homestay revenues sounds like an easy recipe for returns, took nine years to post its first annual profit.

Not making money can be the ultimate competitive advantage, if you can afford it.

Industry stalwarts lose money, too. Salesforce, with a market cap of $88 billion, has posted losses for the vast majority of its operating history. Square, valued at nearly $20 billion, has never been profitable on a GAAP basis. DocuSign, the 15-year-old newly public company that dominates the e-signature space, lost more than $50 million in its last fiscal year (and more than $100 million in each of the two preceding years). Of course, these companies, like their unicorn brethren, invest heavily in growing revenues, attracting investors who value this approach.

We could go on. But the basic takeaway is this: Losing money is not a bug. It’s a feature. One might even argue that entrepreneurs in metro areas with a more fiscally restrained investment culture are missing out.

What’s also noteworthy is the propensity of so many city startups to wreak havoc on existing, profitable industries without generating big profits themselves. Craigslist, a San Francisco nonprofit, may have started the trend in the 1990s by blowing up the newspaper classified business. Today, Uber and Lyft have decimated the value of taxi medallions.

Not making money can be the ultimate competitive advantage, if you can afford it, as it prevents others from entering the space or catching up as your startup gobbles up greater and greater market share. Then, when rivals are out of the picture, it’s possible to raise prices and start focusing on operating in the black.

Raise money from investors who’ve done this before

You can’t lose money on your own. And you can’t lose any old money, either. To succeed as a San Francisco unicorn, it helps to lose money provided by one of a short list of prestigious investors who have previously backed valuable, unprofitable Northern California startups.

It’s not a mysterious list. Most of the names are well-known venture and seed investors who’ve been actively investing in local startups for many years and commonly feature on rankings like the Midas List. We’ve put together a few names here.

You might wonder why it’s so much better to lose money provided by Sequoia Capital than, say, a lower-profile but still wealthy investor. We could speculate that the following factors are at play: a firm’s reputation for selecting winning startups, a willingness of later investors to follow these VCs at higher valuations and these firms’ skill in shepherding portfolio companies through rapid growth cycles to an eventual exit.

Whatever the exact connection, the data speaks for itself. The vast majority of San Francisco’s most valuable private and recently public internet and technology companies have backing from investors on the short list, commonly beginning with early-stage rounds.

Pick a business model that relatives understand

Generally speaking, you don’t need to know a lot about semiconductor technology or networking infrastructure to explain what a high-valuation San Francisco company does. Instead, it’s more along the lines of: “They have an app for getting rides from strangers,” or “They have an app for renting rooms in your house to strangers.” It may sound strange at first, but pretty soon it’s something everyone seems to be doing.

It’s not a recipe that’s likely replicable without talent, drive, connections and timing. 

list of 32 San Francisco-based unicorns and near-unicorns is populated mostly with companies that have widely understood brands, including Pinterest, Instacart and Slack, along with Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. While there are some lesser-known enterprise software names, they’re not among the largest investment recipients.

Part of the consumer-facing, high brand recognition qualities of San Francisco startups may be tied to the decision to locate in an urban center. If you were planning to manufacture semiconductor components, for instance, you would probably set up headquarters in a less space-constrained suburban setting.

Reading between the lines of red ink

While it can be frustrating to watch a company lurch from quarter to quarter without a profit in sight, there is ample evidence the approach can be wildly successful over time.

Seattle’s Amazon is probably the poster child for this strategy. Jeff Bezos, recently declared the world’s richest man, led the company for more than a decade before reporting the first annual profit.

These days, San Francisco seems to be ground central for this company-building technique. While it’s certainly not necessary to locate here, it does seem to be the single urban location most closely associated with massively scalable, money-losing consumer-facing startups.

Perhaps it’s just one of those things that after a while becomes status quo. If you want to be a movie star, you go to Hollywood. And if you want to make it on Wall Street, you go to Wall Street. Likewise, if you want to make it by launching an industry-altering business with a good shot at a multi-billion-dollar valuation, all while losing eye-popping sums of money, then you go to San Francisco.

Who gains from Facebook’s missteps?

When Facebook loses, who wins?

That’s a question for startups that may be worth contemplating following Facebook’s recent stock price haircut. The company’s valuation has fallen by around $60 billion since the Cambridge Analytica scandal surfaced earlier this month and the #DeleteFacebook campaign gained momentum.

That’s a steep drop, equal to about 12 percent of the company’s market valuation, and it’s a decline Facebook appears to be suffering alone. As its shares fell over the past couple of weeks, stocks of other large-cap tech and online media companies have been much flatter.

So where did the money go? It’s probably a matter of perspective. For a Facebook shareholder, that valuation is simply gone. And until executives’ apologies resonate and users’ desire to click and scroll overcomes their privacy fears, that’s how it is.

An alternate view is that the valuation didn’t exactly disappear. Investors may still believe the broad social media space is just as valuable as it was a couple of weeks ago. It’s just that less of that pie should be the exclusive domain of Facebook.

If one takes that second notion, then the possibilities for who could benefit from Facebook’s travails start to get interesting. Of course, there are public market companies, like Snap or Twitter, that might pick up traffic if the #DeleteFacebook movement gains momentum without spreading to other big brands. But it’s in the private markets where we see the highest number of potential beneficiaries of Facebook’s problems.

In an effort to come up with some names, we searched through Crunchbase for companies in social media and related areas. The resulting list includes companies that have raised good-sized rounds in the past couple of years and could conceivably see gains if people cut back on using Facebook or owning its stock.

Of course, people use Facebook for different things (posting photos, getting news, chatting with friends and so on), so we lay out a few categories of potential beneficiaries of a Facebook backlash.

Messaging

Facebook has a significant messaging presence, but it hasn’t been declared the winner. Alternatives like Snap, LINE, WeChat and plain old text messages are also massively popular.

That said, what’s bad for Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp is probably good for competitors. And if more people want to do less of their messaging on Facebook, it helps that there are a number of private companies ready to take its place.

Crunchbase identified six well-funded messaging apps that could fit the bill (see list). Collectively, they’ve raised well over $2 billion — if one includes the $850 million initial coin offering by Telegram.

Increasingly, these private messaging startups are focused on privacy and security, including Wickr, the encrypted messaging tool that has raised more than $70 million, and Silent Circle, another encrypted communications provider that has raised $130 million.

Popular places to browse on a screen

People who cut back on Facebook may still want to spend hours a day staring at posts on a screen. So it’s likely they’ll start staring at something else that’s content-rich, easy-to-navigate and somewhat addictive.

Luckily, there are plenty of venture-backed companies that fit that description. Many of these are quite mature at this point, including Pinterest for image collections, Reddit for post and comment threads and Quora for Q&A (see list).

Granted, these will not replace the posts keeping you up to date on the life events of family and friends. But they could be a substitute for news feeds, meme shares and other non-personal posts.

Niche content

A decline in Facebook usage could translate into a rise in traffic for a host of niche content and discussion platforms focused on sports, celebrities, social issues and other subjects.

Crunchbase News identified at least a half-dozen that have raised funding in recent quarters, which is just a sampling of the total universe. Selected startups run the gamut from The Players’ Tribune, which features first-hand accounts for top athletes, to Medium, which seeks out articles that resonate with a wide audience.

Niche sites also provide a more customized forum for celebrities, pundits and subject-matter experts to engage directly with fans and followers.

Community and engagement

People with common interests don’t have to share them on Facebook. There are other places that can offer more tailored content and social engagement.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in community and activity-focused social apps gain traction. Perhaps the most prominent is Nextdoor, which connects neighbors for everything from garage sales to crime reports. We’re also seeing some upstarts focused on creating social networks for interest groups. These include Mighty Networks and Amino Apps.

Though some might call it a stretch, we also added to the list WeWork, recent acquirer of Meetup, and The Guild, two companies building social networks in the physical world. These companies are encouraging people to come out and socially network with other people (even if just means sitting in a room with other people staring at a screen).

Watch where the money goes

Facebook’s latest imbroglio is still too recent to expect a visible impact in the startup funding arena. But it will be interesting to watch in the coming months whether potential rivals in the above categories raise a lot more cash and attract more users.

If there’s demand, there’s certainly no shortage of supply on the investor front. The IPO window is wide open, and venture investors are sitting on record piles of dry powder. It hasn’t escaped notice, either, that social media offerings, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Snap, have generated the biggest exit total of any VC-funded sector.

Moreover, those who’ve argued that it’s too late for newcomers have a history of being proven wrong. After all, that’s what people were saying about would-be competitors to MySpace in 2005, not long before Facebook made it big.