K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

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

If necessity is the mother of invention, then new business owners are getting very inventive in the ways in which they access cash. Relying on some long-tested and some new avenues to raise money, entrepreneurs are finding more ways to get public market cash faster than they would have in the past.

Whether it’s from Reg A crowdfunding dollars, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) or direct listings, these somewhat arcane and specialized financing vehicles are making a comeback alongside a rise in new funding mechanisms to get to market quickly and avoid the dilution that comes from private market rounds (especially since those rounds are likely to come at a reduced valuation given market conditions).

Some of these tools have existed for a while and are newly popular in an era where retail investors are driving much of the daily fluctuations of the public markets. Wall Street institutions are largely maintaining their conservative postures with regard to new offerings, so secondary market retail volume growth is outpacing institutional. Retail investors want into these new issues and are pouring into the markets, contributing to huge pops to new public offerings for companies like Lemonade this Thursday and creating an environment where SPACs and crowdfunding campaigns can flourish.

The rise of zero-commission brokerages and the popularization of fractional trading led by the startup Robinhood and adopted by every one of the major online brokers including Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E-Trade and Interactive Brokers has created a stock market boom that defies the underlying market conditions in the U.S. and globally. For instance, daily trades on Robinhood are up 300% year-over-year as of March 2020.

According to data from the BATS exchange, the total trade count in the U.S. was up 71% and May trading was up more than 43% over 2019. Meanwhile, E-Trade daily average revenue trades posted a 244% increase in May over last year’s numbers.

Don’t call it a comeback

The appetite for new issues is growing and if many of the largest venture-backed companies are holding off on going public, smaller names are using SPACs to access public capital and reach these new investors.

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

Any disaster will have its harshest repercussions on people who were already marginalized. It’s unsurprising, then, that when it comes to jobs and businesses, the COVID-19 lockdown is impacting women and ethnic minorities more than anyone else.

In April, unemployment shot up to 15.5% among women, 2.5% higher than for men. The rate was also higher among African Americans and Latinx people than for white people, with Latinx reaching a record 18.9% unemployment.

Women, especially from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are going to be taking the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities at home during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to job cuts. At the same time, underrepresented employees in general may feel more marginalized than ever as job security is put on the line.

It’s been hard to get to where we are on diversity and inclusion. Slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion have become a highly visible element of any company. But as COVID-19 turned up the pressure for businesses around the world, that progress came under threat as D&I initiatives took a back seat. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests reignited D&I efforts in magnitude, but how can we ensure that, as time passes, those efforts are maintained with energy and determination?

This may be the shock to the system that will make business leaders realize that diversity is not an accessory or PR stunt — it is an integral part of the daily lives of each and every member of your team. Today’s consumers and your co-workers demand socially conscious companies, which is why D&I is vital to making any startup a well-rounded business. It’s also imperative for supporting economic recovery on a larger scale. Forgetting to preserve and improve D&I as we battle through COVID-19 will not only set us back years in terms of equality, it will worsen our collective chances of getting through this turbulence unscathed.

D&I matters to your business’ survival

It’s understandable that most startups today will be in survival mode. But D&I cannot be cast aside as a nonessential part of your business. It’s quite the opposite. More diversity is a known indicator for better economic performance and improves a business’ chances of thriving through a recession.

We often hear about how diversity means more innovation in a company. Consider just how important this is today. Facing a crisis with no precedent, weighing up a variety of insights and solutions is vital to finding an intelligent lockdown strategy. As business leaders, we need to know what the world around us looks like right now, and that means knowing what people of all backgrounds are experiencing.

We also can’t afford to not take into consideration the long-term effects of today’s actions. Survival can’t mean usurping what your company stands for. If you sacrifice diversity now, you might retain employees for the time being, because they’re scared of being jobless. But you will have undermined the trust that your workers place in you and you will be sure to lose them far more easily once the situation eases. This is very true for customers too — the crisis is driving the public to support purpose-driven and diverse businesses more than ever, and you will be left out if you don’t meet those values.

Even if you’re not hiring, work on diversity and inclusion

So how can a startup keep diversity a priority in this strange new world? Sure, you may not be hiring, but that’s not the only way to improve diversity. Take this time to revisit your internal culture. The virus is forcing us to see our business from different angles — we’re looking into the homes of our co-workers, hearing about the personal issues affecting their work lives and about the work issues affecting their personal lives. Let’s make sure your company culture is not part of the problem.

You need to be accessible. Are some of your employees scared to speak up about their issues? Is there a big morale problem that you haven’t been able to alleviate? If so, then you need to work on making your workspace more inclusive, open and friendly. This is more than building up team spirit with morning coffee Zoom get-togethers and after-work networking. It’s about weeding out any systems that bring repercussions to people who voice their concerns; it’s about encouraging them to do so; it’s about recognizing every member of a team and every person in a meeting, not just the executives present.

The lockdown has shown that many people can work remotely, effectively. Can you use this in future to give employees a greater chance of success — perhaps those who live far from the office, or who have children or elderly relatives to care for? Many HR departments are probably focusing efforts away from hiring at the moment and could instead be put in charge of employee success, which means identifying and addressing the unique concerns of each of your staff (you might even consider assigning a full-time staff member to this role).

This is key to making your company a welcoming place for underrepresented employees who are often more wary of their circumstances than their co-workers, both now and in the future. It will help them grow and want to stay in the company, as well as attract a more diverse employee pool in the future.

In case you are hiring, there are innovative solutions to help you attract more diverse applicants to your company. Joonko’s technology integrates to your applicant tracking system to boost the visibility of underrepresented potential hires. Pitch.Me aims to tackle bias by presenting candidate profiles anonymously, including only relevant information about experience and skills but with no information regarding gender, age or ethnic background. Services like DiTal help tech businesses connect with potential employees from diverse backgrounds.

Reassess what internal success looks like

Before COVID-19, the key performance indicators for your business might have been the number of sales per rep, or the number of leads generated in a week. Those quotas are now unrealistic, and more importantly, they’ll be tougher to reach for employees with less time on their hands. That means people with more caregiving responsibilities — often women — or with less disposable income, and statistics show that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by the virus.

You have to create a work environment in which people with less time and resources can still achieve their professional goals. We typically hear that 80% of the most valuable work takes up 20% of a team’s time; well, let’s make sure your staff is focusing most of their efforts on that 20% of valuable energy. Build a new business plan that reassesses what the company needs to achieve in the near future, and set new metrics that hyperfocus on that bottom line. Think about how important it is to each of your co-workers’ morale to be able to meet their goals day in day out, despite today’s challenges. Furthermore, being adaptable for the benefit of your staff is an admirable quality that will not easily be forgotten.

An important note — helping everyone reach success means giving everyone the resources to do so. No one in your company should be unequipped to this “new normal,” which means good laptops or devices and speedy internet. Don’t hesitate to invest in people who need it.

Prioritize career development

Career development is vital for underrepresented employees, for whom upward mobility is always harder. People from minority backgrounds tend to have less robust business networks, exactly because they are the minority in the business world. We can never stop fighting this vicious cycle.

So take a look at your team and think about who you can help ascend in their career. Prioritize underrepresented people now because they are more likely to get hit harder by the lockdown and have a tougher recovery. Even if you don’t see it from an altruistic perspective, including underrepresented employees in your leadership now will lead to better economic local recovery and improved outcomes for your company.

One option is sponsorship programs in which you or other senior leaders advocate on behalf of selected employees (as well as acting as their mentors). Think of it as equally distributing the networks and influence accumulated by business leaders among a more diverse pool of people.

Bring diversity into your brand

We’ve looked inward, now let’s look outward. How can you change how your industry looks, even in times of crisis. To reach the huge visible changes we’ve seen in, for example, branding in the fashion industry, took influential people making decisions at powerful tables. But it would be ironically easy to see things regress to a more heterogeneous state.

Stopping this from happening means making those big decisions yourself, and uniting others in joining you. Leverage your brand and bring your internal diversity to the forefront of everything you do — the mentors who give their time to startup organizations, the speakers you put forward for online events. Make a conscious push for your external marketing to display as much diversity as possible, especially amid fears that the advertising space will compromise its diversity standards in response to COVID-19.

Support other underrepresented founders

If you have the resources, help struggling founders get through the lockdown. There may be small or mid-sized women or minority-led companies within your community that need your support. If you’re sending employees care packages and gifts, make the extra effort to source them from underrepresented local businesses. It’s not hard to do — there are organizations that can help you connect to such companies around the United States, such as Women Owned’s business directory and Help Main Street.

Large companies can work with Hello Alice to directly fund smaller companies founded by every underrepresented group in the United States, from veterans to LGBTQ+. IFundWomen is a large network of women-founded businesses you can choose to fund — or join — and it has a wing specifically for businesses owned by women of color. As a business leader you can always be seeking out diverse founders to collaborate with; For example, check out this amazing list of Latinx founders catering to the United States’ enormous Latinx markets, as well as finding solutions to improve diversity in business.

The NAACP has fought for equal rights for people of color for over a century. You can support them and their ongoing work, which ranges from campaigning for crucial reforms to spotlighting emerging Black-owned businesses.

Now’s not the time to slack on diversity. As tempting as it might be to think of it as an accessory, it’s just as vital now for your business to get through the pandemic and to stop your entire industry from losing decades of hard-earned progress in building a more equal society.

Why I flip-flopped on opposing remote work

Most people would agree that a chief revenue officer is a pretty significant hire, but I have yet to meet mine in person. Right now, our only face-to-face interaction is over video. In fact, that’s how our relationship began — like many business leaders during this pandemic, I had to hire Todd through a series of video calls.

The pandemic has caused me to question and reevaluate many of my own assumptions. This not only led me to hire our CRO remotely, but it is ultimately why I also decided to allow employees to work from home until 2021.

While it’s tempting to call this a pivot, those who have worked with me would probably describe it more accurately as a flip-flop. I used to believe that you could build an in-person culture or a remote work culture, but that a hybrid of the two was destined to fail.

The realities of COVID-19 have not just changed my outlook, but transformed the way I think about how work should get done —and how leaders need to show up for their team, even if they can’t “show up” in any physical sense.

The remote work debate changed in an instant

Before the pandemic, the debate over remote work revolved around its perceived impact on productivity, collaboration, employee engagement and culture.

Growth capital investor Kennet raises $250M fund, backed by Edmond de Rothschild

Venture capital is “not the only fruit” for entrepreneurs, as the often quieter ‘Growth Capital’ can also see great returns for entrepreneurs who prefer to retain a lot of ownership and control but are also willing to bootstrap over a longer period in order to reach revenues and profits. With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing millions of people online, tech investors of all classes are now reaping the dividends in this accelerated, Coronavirus-powered transition to digital.

Thus it is that Kennet Partners, a leading European technology growth equity investor, has raised $250m (€223m) for its fifth fund, ‘Kennet V’, in partnership with Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity, the Private Equity division of the Edmond de Rothschild Group.

Kennet is perhaps best know for its involvement in companies such as Receipt Bank, Spatial Networks and its exist from Vlocity, IntelePeer, and MedeAnalytics. It’s also invested in Eloomi, Codility, Nuxeo and Rimilia. In raising this new fund, Kennet says it exceeded its target and secured new investors from across Europe and Asia.

The Kennet V fund has already started to deploy the capital into new investments in B2B, SaaS across the UK, Europe and the US.

Typically, Kennet invests in the first external funding that companies receive and is used to finance sales and marketing expansion, particularly internationally. It’s cumulative assets managed are approximately $1 billion.

Hillel Zidel, managing director, Kennet Partners, told me by phone that: “We were fortunate in that most of the capital was raised just before Covid hit. But we were still able to bring additional investors in. Had we been designing a fund for now, then this would have been it, because people have rushed towards technology out of necessity. So this has brought forward digitization but at least five years.”

Johnny El-Hachem, CEO, Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity said in a statement: “We partnered with Kennet, because we liked the dynamism of the team coupled with their strategy of financing businesses providing mission-critical technology solutions. The COVID crisis has underscored the importance of many of these tools to business continuity.”

What 👁👄👁.fm means for Silicon Valley

In 36 hours, a diverse group of young entrepreneurs and technologists raised more than $200,000 for three charities supporting people of color and the LGBTQ community: The Okra ProjectThe Innocence Project and The Loveland Foundation.

How did they do it? Why did they do it?

The answers are important to understanding the future of tech. This is the first real example of how and why Gen Z will build companies. 👁👄👁.fm and the people behind it reflect broader trends in youth culture.

VCs should take note. These are the people who will build the next Facebook.

Everyone else should rejoice. Young technologists are building a new future on a new set of values. Their values are informed by the first-hand experience of growing up with the perverse incentives of yesterday’s social media and a genuine desire to create a better world — online and off.

It all began on Thursday night when a group of friends started riffing on a TikTok meme. In today’s world, language is constantly evolving — 👁👄👁 emerged as a particular spin on the phrase: “It is what it is.” Josh Constine explains, “👁👄👁 means you feel helpless amidst the chaotic realities unfolding around us, but there is no escape.”

The group of friends added the emojis to their Twitter handles and began tweeting about 👁👄👁.fm, a nonexistent invite-only social app. Unexpectedly, the trend started gaining momentum and the inside joke got out of hand. Conversations erupted on the group’s Discord server as they discussed what to do next. Could they channel the hype into impact?

Vernon Coleman, founder of synchronous social app Realtime and “Head of Hype” at 👁👄👁.fm reflected, “What started as a meme quickly gained steam! We realized the opportunity and felt that we had a responsibility to convert the momentum for social good. I think it’s amazing what can happen when skilled creatives get together and collaborate in real-time.”

Where should the team focus their efforts? The answer was clear. The group wrote in a post on Friday, ” … we didn’t have to think too hard: In this moment, there’s pretty much no greater issue to amplify than the systemic racism and anti-Blackness much of the world is only beginning to wake up to.”

Since Thursday, the group accumulated over 20,000 email sign-ups, more than 11,000 Twitter followers and raised over $200,000 in donations.

Cynics have called it a “well-executed marketing campaign” or suggested that it was an ill-intentioned prank. Not everything went perfectly, and the team has acknowledged the missteps. But, we shouldn’t trivialize or marginalize what they accomplished and why they did it.

In one fell swoop, the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked.

This group of 60 young tech leaders took the tools of the titans into their hands to make an impact while making a statement.

They weren’t the most connected people on Twitter. Many of the team have follower counts in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. But, they understand the tools as well as the tech elite.

This is the latest in a string of movements created by Gen Z leaders and activists. Gen Z is able to amplify their voice — even on platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, considered the domain of millennials and Gen X.

We first saw this with the Parkland school shooting when high school students took over Twitter then Facebook then cable news to add a voice of reason to a gun debate that had devolved into partisan talking points.

Over the last three years, I’ve spent dozens of hours talking with young users and product builders — this has been an important part of my job as the chief product officer at Tinder, a product director on Facebook’s Youth team and an angel investor. Many of the sentiments expressed by the 👁👄👁.fm team reflect broader feelings in Gen Z:

Gen Z is tired of a boomer generation that seems more focused on reaping their last bit from the world than passing it on in better shape.

Gen Z is fed up with exclusive clubs and virtual velvet ropes. The latest example is Clubhouse, an invite-only social app that raised at a $100 million valuation despite being only a few months old and catering to only a few thousand users — among them Oprah and Kevin Hart.

For tech insiders, Clubhouse is the place to be. For Gen Z outsiders, it’s the latest example of Black celebrity being used to make predominantly white founders and investors rich.

Gen Z entrepreneurs and tech leaders are tired of a tech industry that talks about inclusivity, but then uses exclusivity as a marketing ploy. This has been a practice for more than a decade. It started with Gmail, the first app to use private invites at scale — a tactic widely copied.

Today, Silicon Valley insiders are clamoring for invites to HEY, a recently released email app that notoriously charges for two- and three-letter email addresses ($999 per year for a two-letter address and $375 for a three-letter address). The short name up-charge is a cynical money-making scheme from a company whose founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, evangelize a fairer and more empathetic approach to technology. Critics have pointed out that their business model unfairly — and likely unintentionally — targets ethnic groups who have a tradition of shorter names.

Finally, Gen Z is tired of a tech industry that talks about diversity, but doesn’t practice it. Black and Hispanic people continue to be underrepresented at major tech companies, particularly at the leadership level. This underrepresentation is even worse for entrepreneurs. Just 1% of venture-backed founders are Black.

Silicon Valley isn’t trying hard enough.

“We hear repeatedly that there’s a pipeline problem in tech VC and employment … that’s bullshit. We were able to bring together different age groups, cultural backgrounds, skills, genders and geographies … all based on a random selection process of people putting a meme in their profile … the Valley should realize that you can literally throw darts and get results,” said Coleman. “If the industry is about that action imagine the magic we’d all create together.”

The story of 👁👄👁.fm highlights an important truth. If the tech industry doesn’t create the future Gen Z wants, there’s no need to worry. They’ll create it for themselves.

Will you help them?

Make the hire. Send the wire. — Tiffani Ashley Bell, founding executive director at The Human Utility.

The team behind 👁👄👁.fm supports:

  • The Okra Project — a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black trans people by bringing home-cooked, healthy and culturally specific meals and resources to Black trans people wherever we can reach them.
  • The Innocence Project — its mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment — a plight that disproportionately affects people of color.
  • The Loveland Foundation — makes it possible for Black women and girls nationally to receive therapy support. Black women and girls deserve access to healing, and that healing will impact generations.

To promote diversity, rewire your broken corporate culture

We have a problem. In tech, our companies are not diverse.

This is something we’ve known for a long time, but in an industry where we’ve innovated and solved some of the world’s most challenging problems, we have continued to fail here. I am one of few Black tech CEOs and I too have historically not done as much as I should have to harness the power of diversity in my business. I have been fast at work to change this, but I’ve learned that it requires rewriting the entire playbook.

To better approach the lack of diversity in tech, one-dimensional diversity agendas will not cut it. Company cultures across the board need to be rewired at their core. Change has to happen at every level, from leadership to individual employees — even how a corporation behaves as an entity.

Diversity is advantageous both for employees and the bottom line, but static, siloed diversity programs will not create systemic change. Shifting the company mindset around diversity means creating excitement around our differences, changing the idea that diversity is a zero-sum game and approaching diversity like every other challenge we face.

It can be tempting to introduce a diversity agenda and say you’ve solved the problem. A step beyond this involves diversity and inclusion initiatives that aim to get more people in the door and create support networks within the company walls. It’s not just about meeting D&I standards; the goal is to foster a sense of belonging for all employees.

Everyone should feel that their individuality, sexual orientation, gender and heritage are celebrated within the workplace, not just tolerated. Through diverse viewpoints, ideas can be challenged and made better. Without this level of acceptance and genuine excitement at every level of the organization, diversity initiatives will continue to fall flat.

When thinking about diversity, inclusion and belonging, leaders must consider ways to engage the full group instead of creating support groups for small portions of your staff. True diversity in the workplace requires a holistic approach where the entire team is participating and engaged.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that on the most basic level, people want to feel seen and appreciated. Personally, I’ve always leaned into diverse cultural experiences. I would go to my friend’s Passover even though I am not Jewish. My friends and other guests didn’t care that I didn’t know what was about to happen — they appreciated that I was there and willing to learn. I’m trying to take this same emotional interaction and apply it to Holler’s culture. We need to look for ways to acknowledge that we are here and ready to learn about experiences other than our own. And remember — we don’t have to have all the answers.

To address this, we’ve recently started to create holidays (or as we call them, Hollerdays) where we as a company will acknowledge and honor the holidays from various heritages, races and religions that our employees celebrate. This is not just a free day off. This is an opportunity for all of us to learn and celebrate cultures outside of our own.

Education is the key element in diversity-focused activities having real impact. We need to create normalcy around educational opportunities. Through education, opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate diverse life experiences begins to be baked into the company culture.

When introducing new educational opportunities, we must show that they are beneficial for everyone, not just catered to minority groups or hosted in order to meet a diversity standard. Corporate diversity can often feel like a box that can be checked by hiring more ethnically diverse candidates or implementing a program to help those individuals assimilate. What’s worse is that anything beyond these initiatives is perceived as special treatment or a chore to the full team. If an educational moment feels like a negative to employees, the outcome will be negative and mass adoption of equitable and inclusive company cultures will be slow.

To introduce new educational programs at Holler, we recently asked one of the BLM founders, Opal Tometi, to speak with our employees in a live Q&A. This was during work hours and highly encouraged, but not required. It was a communal activity where we were able to discuss different perspectives and continue thinking about how we can each do better on an individual level. We created excitement around it and reinforced that these types of discussions are a company priority.

The language we use around diversity also has a hand in creating real change. We need to focus on diversity as a way of lifting the entire ship and creating an equitable society. In tech specifically, team members who can think outside of their own lived experiences have a stronger sense of emotional intelligence. They can build algorithms or projects that address a larger collective — mitigating issues like biased machine learning solutions. They become more competitive as employees.

A community focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging will have a competitive advantage. Frankly, it’s the morally right thing to do. Business leaders should monitor the execution of diversity and inclusion programs to ensure equity and belonging are a part of the conversation as well.

We as leaders in technology need to treat diversity and inclusion the same way we do any other tech challenge — with agility and openness to iteration. Many companies use agile methodology to yield the best results. To solve complex problems, agile practices encourage adaptability and promote continuous improvement, flexibility, collaboration and high quality. We must do the same for diversity.

With so much pressure to change and do better, it is tempting to implement new policies and say that you are automatically diversity focused. Immediately stating how your company will “fix the problem” is a band-aid approach that often misses the larger task at hand. It also does not involve enough follow through. Rewiring your company culture to be more inclusive and diverse requires continuous effort, a commitment to hearing feedback and evolving as you learn.

As a CEO, I’m trying to understand how each and every person within my company views diversity. Yes, this even includes white males. We need the perspectives of everyone in order to foster a sense of belonging and create company cultures that systematically embrace diverse backgrounds. We all need to be a part of the conversation and willing to grow.

I’m also continuing to speak and listen to other business leaders to hear how they are approaching change. Not a single one of us has the answer, but through sharing ideas and really listening to what is working (and what’s not), we can start to make sustainable change.

Think of diversity as an industry-wide open-source project. We cannot work in silos. Isolation will lead to furthering our fragmented industry and leave us without a standard for how all humans should be treated within the tech community.

Sharing ideas and progress can be intimidating, but it’s okay to fail. The agile methodology promotes the idea of failure as an outcome and empowers iteration. We need to allow companies to miss the mark sometimes, as long as they are trying and iterating. Businesses inevitably won’t get this right every time.

I’ve heard from white male executives that one of their biggest fears is rolling out well-intentioned initiatives and getting “canceled” when it doesn’t work out perfectly. If we do not allow today’s business leaders to make mistakes, we’ll suffocate progress. We need to focus on the good intent and keep moving forward.

We each have to take on the responsibility to make change happen — at a corporate and an individual level. Once we learn to celebrate everyone at our companies for who they truly are, shift the rhetoric away from who wins and who loses in the fight for equity, and evolve our approach to problem solving, we can begin to make systemic changes to our company cultures. The process is only beginning and it is going to take all of us doing our part to fundamentally alter how we approach corporate diversity conversations.

We must take our next steps together.

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

The next iteration of fintech is upon us, according to Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel.

“Fintech 1.0 was very much, ‘Let’s take what already exists and let’s do it better,’” she said in a recent appearance on Extra Crunch Live. Consumers are shifting away from Chase Bank and migrating to no-fee trading platforms like Robinhood; instead of booking an appointment with a tax advisor, people are registering with TurboTax.

Von Tobel, who founded financial-planning service LearnVest before joining Inspired Capital, said fintech’s future involves bringing infrastructure and support into ecosystems created by services like Robinhood and Betterment. It’s one of the many sectors that her generalist firm, which closed a $200 million debut fund last year, is interested in.

Our hour-long chat included tips on how (and when) to pitch her, breaking into VC and using vulnerability as a competitive advantage. Don’t just take it from us: Watch or listen to the entire conversation after the jump, or read some of the highlights below.

Where to open a game studio

With the game industry booming, more entrepreneurs are evaluating where to base their new startup or open a new office for their existing company. The U.S. government’s block on H1-B and L-1 visas will encourage American game startups to add an office abroad much sooner than they otherwise would have. But where?

This spring, I surveyed a number of gaming-focused VCs about which cities are the best hubs for game studios targeting the Western games market. Several locales stood out as heavily recommended — which I’ve shared below — but the most interesting takeaway was the lack of consensus.

Game studios are far less geographically concentrated than other categories of VC-backed startups. While there are odes on Twitter and conference stages that “you can build a successful startup anywhere,” most investors will push founders to locate themselves in the SF Bay Area, or at least in LA, NYC or London. Meanwhile, the most common piece of advice from those I spoke to: You should probably not base a gaming startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Access to the right talent is the top priority, as is the ability to retain them. Proximity to investors matters, but a successful game quickly turns a profit, which reduces the need for outside funding beyond Series A (and U.S. and European VCs who focus on gaming tend to be very international in scope). Quality of life, ease of obtaining visas and access to strategic partners all play into the decision as well and will weigh these recommendations differently depending on who you are and the games you’re developing.

Three notes:

  • I focused on qualitative research, gauging the assessments of top investors who track new startups in the sector about where the action is right now. 
  • The scope of this survey is limited to studios targeting the Western gaming market, so leading hubs in Asia weren’t included.
  • I group cities by metropolitan area so, for example, San Francisco includes Redwood City and Seattle includes Bellevue.

North America

In North America, Los Angeles is the clear favorite with Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all receiving many endorsements as the other top hubs. Regarding cities with the most interesting gaming startups recently, Ryann Lai of Makers Fund said, “It is hard to name a single best location, but Toronto, Culver City (in Los Angeles), Orange County (next to Los Angeles) have gotten increasingly popular among gaming founders lately.”

Clockwise CEO Matt Martin: How we closed an $18M Series B during a pandemic

It all started with an email from a customer: “Do you know why Bain Capital Ventures is reaching out to me about Clockwise?”

That email would mark the beginning of a journey toward closing $18 million in new funding that will dramatically accelerate my company, Clockwise . It would require getting to know a partner in lockdown, long nights assembling a pitch deck and many bleary-eyed Zoom calls with some of the best VCs in the world.

Here’s how Ajay Agarwal from Bain Capital Ventures and I established trust online, how I made high-stakes decisions in extreme economic uncertainty and how we were able to turn the pandemic’s constraints into opportunities.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Building momentum: 2016 to 2020

Clockwise was founded in late fall of 2016. We realized that, as personal as time is, our schedules inside modern work environments are intertwined by a network of calendar events and attendees. People schedule meetings without considering the preferences of colleagues by simply hunting for any available “white space” (read: time to do real work). The net effect is that our most valuable resource, time, is easy to take and almost impossible to protect.

More than two years later, in June of 2019, we launched Clockwise to the public. After years of experimentation and refinement, we delivered to the world an intelligent calendar assistant that frees up your time so you can focus on what matters. Workers soon confirmed our hunch that they’re hungry for a tool that gives them more productive hours in their day. Our rapid user growth carried throughout 2019.

By January of 2020, we were on fire. Since January 1, our user base has grown by more than 90%, expanding at a clip of well over 5% week-over-week. As people sought remote tools during shelter-in-place, our rate of growth accelerated even further.

Our growth, incredible team, top-tier existing investors (Accel and Greylock) and strong cash position meant we didn’t need to raise additional capital until the fall of 2020. While COVID-19 certainly sent shock waves through the community, I was in regular communication with a few highly engaged investors who still seemed eager to invest in the future of productivity. I felt cautiously confident more capital could wait.

But, you know, best-laid plans.

Establishing trust while sheltering in place