Salesforce Ventures invested $300M in Automattic while Salesforce was building a CMS

In September, Salesforce Ventures, the venture of arm of Salesforce, announced a hefty $300 million investment in Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the ubiquitous content management system (CMS). At the same time, the company was putting the finishing touches on Salesforce CMS, an in-house project it released last week.

The question is, why did it choose to do both?

One reason could be that WordPress isn’t just well-liked; it’s also the world’s most popular content management system, running 34 percent of the world’s 10 billion websites — including this one — according to the company. With Automattic valued at $3 billion, that gives Salesforce Ventures a 10 percent stake.

Given the substantial investment, you wouldn’t have been irrational to at least consider the idea that Salesforce may have had its eye on this company as an acquisition target. In fact, at the time of the funding, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet that there could be some partnerships and integrations with Salesforce in the future.

Now we have a Salesforce CMS, and a potential partnership with one of the world’s largest web content management (WCM) tools, and it’s possible that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Startups Weekly: Upfront Ventures bets on a bus service

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I profiled an e-commerce startup Part & Parcel. Before that, I wrote about Stripe’s grand plans.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Startup Spotlight: Landline

Some startups build space ships that will one day send us all to Mars, others put their time and energy into improving 350 year old infrastructure.

Landline, the operator of a bus network in the Midwest, is one of the latest companies to raise venture capital. The business has closed a $3.85 million round led by Los Angeles firm Upfront Ventures, with participation from Mucker Capital and Matchstick Ventures. The company is actually based out of LA, too, but has completed its initial launch in Minnesota, where there’s greater demand for short-term bus travel.

Landline isn’t just a few buses with startup branding. Founder and chief executive officer David Sunde tells TechCrunch a ride on Landline is booked through its partner airline Sun Country Airlines. A traveler pays Sun Country one fixed price to get them from the bus pick-up point to their final destination. The goal is to help those who live far distances from airports save money and to make the experience of busing more enjoyable.

“It’s all meant to be at the level of reliability that you would expect from an air carrier,” Sunde tells TechCrunch. “We don’t want people who get on the bus to be surprised or upset — we want it to be a seamless experience … The perception of bus travel in the U.S. is negative. A big part of our mission is to get people comfortable on buses again as a viable alternative to air travel in certain markets.”

For those of you wondering, have these people ever heard of Greyhound? Landline says they wont compete with Greyhound because of the more than 100-year-old transportation business’s focus on long-haul trips. Landline will specifically focus on connecting those in rural communities to airports, particularly regions where there aren’t already bus routes that conveniently access the airport. Can’t say I’m particularly bullish on this one but the startup is very early and transportation is a massive market ripe for disruption.

“Our vision is completely integrated multi-modal travel,” Sunde added.

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IPO Update

WeWork has delayed its IPO following questions surrounding its corporate governance and the ultimate value of the company. The co-working business says it expects to go public by the end of the year. Airbnb, for its part, filed a press release this week confirming its plans to go public in 2020. We don’t know much about the company’s plans, but we wouldn’t be too surprised to see the home-sharing decacorn pursue a direct listing.

Postmates, the popular food delivery service, raised another $225 million at a valuation of $2.4 billion in a round led by the private equity firm GPI Capital this week. The financing brings Postmates’ total funding to nearly $1 billion. The company filed privately with the SEC for an IPO earlier this year. Sources familiar with the company’s exit plans say the business intends to publicly unveil its IPO prospectus this month.

To discuss the company’s journey to the public markets and the challenges ahead in the increasingly crowded food delivery space, Postmates co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt on Friday October 4th. Don’t miss it.

VC Deals

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Learn from top VCs at TechCrunch Disrupt

A whole lot of VCs will be joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt.

We’ll have a16z general partners Chris Dixon, Angela Strange and Andrew Chen for insight into the firm’s latest activity. Seed investor Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and Redpoint Ventures general partner Annie Kadavy will show up to give founders tips on how to raise VC. Y Combinator’s Michael Seibel and Ali Rowghani will join us with advice on how to get accepted to their respected accelerator.

Plus, GV’s David Krane, Sequoia general partner Jess Lee, Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko, Aspect Ventures’ Theresia Gouw, Bessemer Venture Partners’  Tess Hatch, Forerunner Ventures’ Eurie Kim, Mithril Capital’s Ajay Royan and SOSV’s Arvind Gupta will be on deck to comment on the respective fields.

Disrupt SF runs October 2-4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Passes are available here.

#EquityPod

This week, the lovely Alex Wilhelm and I welcomed Kleiner Perkins’ Mamoon Hamid, known for his investments in Slack, Figma, Cameo and more, to riff on upcoming IPOs and debate the scalability of D2C brands. Listen to the episode here or watch us on YouTube.

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

How Automattic wants to build the operating system of the web

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and soon Tumblr, is now worth $3 billion. But its founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg has a bigger goal. He wants to make the web better, more open and diverse.

With the rise of social networks and closed platforms, Automattic’s mission statement has never sounded so important. Automattic doesn’t want to be the hot new startup. It wants to build a strong foundation to empower content creators for decades to come.

In an interview this week, Matt Mullenweg discussed why he raised $300 million from Salesforce Ventures, what he thinks of the current state of the web and how Automattic has a shot at building the open-source operating system of the web. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Michel / Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license)


Romain Dillet: Tell me more about how much money you’ve raised, who you’ve raised from.

Daily Crunch: Automattic raises $300M

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Automattic raises $300 million at $3 billion valuation from Salesforce Ventures

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and soon Tumblr, has raised new funding at a $3 billion post-money valuation. And the entire $300 million round comes from one investor — Salesforce Ventures.

“What we want to do is to become the operating system for the open web,” said founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg. “We want every website, whether it’s e-commerce or anything to be powered by WordPress.”

2. Roku unveils a new streaming player lineup, plus Roku OS 9.2 launch

The company is announcing updated versions of both its entry-level and high-end players. It’s also introducing a new version of the Roku Express exclusively for Walmart, and a Streaming Stick that will be exclusively sold at Best Buy.

3. Airbnb says it will go public next year

The company is part of a big unicorn herd that emerged roughly a decade ago (a herd that includes Uber, Lyft, The We Company and Postmates), and is one of the latest to declare its public market plans.

Nintendo Switch Lite

4. Nintendo Switch Lite review

Brian Heater says that if he was choosing between the Switch and the Switch Lite, he’d go for the Lite — but he’d grit his teeth a bit at the idea of sacrificing a couple hours of battery life in the process.

5. Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph on the company’s earliest days, the streaming wars and moving on

Randolph also shared why it took him 16 years to tell his story about what has become one of the most impactful companies in the history of television. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Google completes controversial takeover of DeepMind Health

The personnel move had been delayed as trusts associated with the National Health Service considered whether to shift their existing DeepMind contracts to Google. (Ultimately, they did shift to Google.)

7. Stephen Curry Brings SC30 Inc. to Disrupt SF

When Golden State Warriors point guard and two-time MVP Stephen Curry isn’t playing basketball, he’s working with his business partner and former college basketball teammate Bryant Barr. Together, Barr and Curry run SC30 Inc., which manages Curry’s investment, media, philanthropy and brand partnership interests.

Y Combinator Demo Day, revenue-based VC funding, Pivotal, Dell, Tumblr, WeWork, and more

Editor’s note

Due to bad travel logistics (thanks SFO), I wasn’t able to get the mid-week edition of the Extra Crunch roundup newsletter out. Sorry about that. Instead, here is everything we published this week on Extra Crunch in one fell swoop — and my, we covered a lot of ground. Hope you enjoy some great weekend reading.

Y Combinator Demo Day Coverage-a-palooza

Much like the equinoxes that synchronize Earth’s calendar, Y Combinator’s biannual demo days are a key fixture of the Silicon Valley calendar. This year was no different, with 166 companies presenting from the summer batch (and occasionally from previous batches if they chose to delay their presentation).

We had a full squad on site not only covering the 84 companies from day one and 82 companies from day two, but our team also put their collective heads together to identify the top companies from each set exclusively for Extra Crunch members.

The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

Read our favorite 11 startups from day one, which included:

PopSQL provides collaborative SQL query editing. You can store SQL queries you run regularly, grouping them into folders that can be kept private or shared amongst your team. Version history tracks changes so it can be reverted if/when something breaks. It currently has more than 100 paying companies, and is making $13K per month. It plans to build a marketplace for apps that run on top of your company’s database.

Why it’s one of our favorites: SQL database queries can be a nightmare, especially if they’re not something you’re used to dealing with every day. PopSQL lets you hammer on queries collaboratively until they’re working exactly as you want — then you can save them for future use and share them amongst your team members. And when you’ve spent the last 45 minutes trying to figure out why your query isn’t working only for a team mate to fix it in thirty seconds, you can use version control to see exactly what they changed. PopSQL says its product has already found customers in companies like Instacart, Redfin, and DoorDash.

Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

Read our favorite 12 startups from day two, which included:

Business Score is helping companies automate background checks on other businesses. The startup is looking to stamp out tired manual processes that largely mean picking up the phone and scouring documents. The single API taps data sources across the web to build out real-time profiles that can help customers scan businesses in an effort to prevent fraud, qualify leads and onboard new clients.

Why it’s one of our favorites: Though it’s yet another startup in the batch catering to other startups, we thought Business Score stood out. The company integrates with thousands of data providers to help companies verify other startups and enterprises they are considering doing business with, using a system they’ve dubbed “the business passport.” There’s an opportunity here to create a tool essential to company-building across industry.

YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

Finally, amidst all the zany craziness of watching 166 companies present over two days (there should be a YC company for unmelting your brain), our venture capital reporter Kate Clark stepped back to assess what all the various companies in the batch indicated about the accelerator’s strategy these days.

YC knows its sweet spot: enterprise SaaS. One might go as far as to say it’s transitioning into a full-on SaaS incubator. Why? Because one of the greatest advantages of going through YC is the network of alumni companies you can tap into. Many successful B2B companies have emerged from the program, raised boat loads of venture capital funding and rocketed to the moon (hello Stripe, Brex, Gusto and Atrium). With that in mind, YC is doubling down on its resources for startups that sell products to other startups, which brings us to our first piece of news.

YC chief executive officer Michael Seibel and president Geoff Ralston announced this week that the accelerator has implemented something called CTO and HR demo days. In short, CTO and HR demo days are an opportunity for B2B startups to pitch their products to YC alum companies’ CTO and/or head of HR. Seibel and Ralston said 60 CTOs attended the event, as well as 30 HR heads. In total, 42 startups presented and we’re guessing a bunch of those companies booked a few customers.

Tumblr’s next step forward with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

After months of rumors, Verizon finally sold off Tumblr for a reported $3 million — a fraction of what Yahoo paid for the once might blogging service back in 2013.

The media conglomerate (which also owns TechCrunch) was clearly never quite sure what to do with the property after gobbling it up as part of its 2016 Yahoo acquisition. All parties has since come to the conclusion that Tumblr simply wasn’t a good fit under either the Verizon or Yahoo umbrella, amounting to a $1.1 billion mistake.

For Tumblr, however, the story may still have a happy ending. By all accounts, its new home at Automattic is far better fit. The service joins a portfolio that includes popular blogging service WordPress.com, spam filtering service Akismet and long-form storytelling platform, Longreads.

In an interview, this week, Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg discussed Tumblr’s history and the impact of the poorly received adult content restrictions. He also shed some light on where Tumblr goes from here, including a potential increased focused on multimedia such as podcasting.

Brian Heater: I’m curious how [your meetings with Tumblr staff] went. What’s the feeling on the team right now? What are the concerns? How are people feeling about the transition?

What will Tumblr become under the ownership of tech’s only Goldilocks founder?

This week, Automattic revealed it has signed all the paperwork to acquire Tumblr from Verizon, including its full staff of 200. Tumblr has undergone quite a journey since its headline-grabbing acquisition by Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo in 2013 for $1.1 billion, but after six years of neglect, its latest move is its first real start since it stopped being an independent company. Now, it’s in the hands of Matt Mullenweg, the only founder of a major tech company who has repeatedly demonstrated a talent for measured responses, moderation and a willingness to forego reckless explosive growth in favor of getting things ‘just right.’

There’s never been a better acquisition for all parties involved, or at least one in which every party should walk away feeling they got exactly what they needed out of the deal. Yes, that’s in spite of the reported $3 million-ish asking price.

Verizon Media acquired Tumblr through a deal made to buy Yahoo, under a previous media unit strategy and leadership team. Verizon Media has no stake in the company, and so headlines talking about the bath it apparently took relative to the original $1.1 billion acquisition price are either willfully ignorant or just plain dumb.

Six years after another company made that bad deal for a company it clearly didn’t have the right business focus to correctly operate, Verizon made a good one to recoup some money.

Aligned leadership and complementary offerings drive a win-win

WeWork S-1, building marketplaces, improving content marketing, and the demise of Tumblr

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

After much discussion, WeWork finally dropped its S-1 filing with the SEC today as it makes preparations for its IPO. While the company has been producing sizable revenues the past few years, the company didn’t disclose everything I think it needed to in order for investors to make a judgment about its financial future.

It’s not as though WeWork hasn’t tried to give us some insight in its S-1. One of WeWork’s core operating metrics is “contribution margin including non-cash GAAP straight-line lease cost” (or what I will abbreviate just this one time as CMINCGAAAPSLLC). Through this metric, the company offers us a single number into the health of its business — essentially a way for investors to understand the performance of the company’s mature office locations.

[…]

What’s missing here though is that WeWork has aggregated its finances for hundreds of locations down to a summary statistic, complemented with a huge amount of text devoted to describing the evolution of a property from lease signing to mature profit-making office. At no time does the company describe the contribution margin and how it changes throughout the course of a single lease. Instead, it provides the following completely numbers-free chart showing that … it makes more money as time goes on.

How even the best marketplace startups get paralyzed

Marketplaces are hard to build. You have to generate both supply and demand, and if that isn’t bad enough, you then have to work to match both sides of the marketplace to get a transaction to clear (and therefore generate revenue).

Axios’ Dan Primack on ‘the most polarizing startup that exists’

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

This week was a bit special. Instead of meeting up at the TechCrunch HQ to record the episode, Kate and Alex met up in muggy Boston at Drift’s office, where we linked up with Axios’s Dan Primack. And since we were feeling chatty, we went a bit long.

After checking in with Primack (he has a newsletter and a podcast), we first dealt with the latest from Tumblr. In short, Verizon Media is selling Tumblr to Automattic for a few dollars. How did Verizon wind up owning Tumblr? Ah. Well, Yahoo bought it. Later, after Verizon bought AOL, it bought Yahoo. Then it smushed them together and called it Oath. Then Verizon decided that it didn’t like that much and renamed the group Verizon Media. But Verizon doesn’t want to own media (besides TechCrunch, of course), so it sold Tumblr to Automattic, a venture-backed company best known for operating WordPress.

That’s a lot, I know. What matters is that Yahoo bought Tumblr for more than $1 billion. Verizon sold it for around $3 million. Now, Automattic now has a few hundred new employees and a shot at juicing its userbase before it goes public.

After that, we lamented that the WeWork S-1 had yet to appear. This was a tragedy, frankly. We had expected to spend half the show riffing on WeWork’s financials, alas…

So we turned to some normal material, like Ramp’s recent $7 million raise to take on Brex, and, SmartNews’s recent round, which gave it an eye-popping $1.1 billion valuation.

We ran a bit long because we were having fun, fitting in some conversation surrounding the notes from the SEC regarding the now-dead and then-fraudulent Rothenberg Ventures. More on that here if you want to get angry.

And finally, Vision Fund 2. It’s been a big source of interest for everyone on the show, and we expect whatever the second-act Vision Fund winds up becoming to be a big damn deal. The fund will invest in more than just consumer marketplaces, in fact, it’s eyeing more AI businesses and even biotech. That should be interesting.

All that and we have a lot more good stuff coming. Thanks for listening to the show, and we’ll be right back.

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

Automattic acquires subscription payment company Prospress

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and a bunch of other cool things, is acquiring a small startup called Prospress. Among other things, Prospress has developed WooCommerce Subscriptions, a recurring payment solution specifically designed for WooCommerce.

Given that physical and digital subscriptions are taking over the e-commerce world, it makes sense that Automattic wants to own WooCommerce Subscriptions. Charging customers on a regular basis is one of the most painful challenges when it comes to payment.

Prospress also works on a marketing automation tool to remind customers that they have abandoned their carts, follow up, cross sell and more. The company also has a tool to test your checkout functionality before going live. After the acquisition, the Prospress team will keep iterating on its own products and join the rest of the WooCommerce team.

This is a strategic acquisition more than anything else. Prospress has around 20 employees, so it’s not going to change the face of Automattic and its team of 900 people. But it’s an important move so that Automattic can own a bigger chunk of the (e-commerce) stack.

WooCommerce competitor Shopify doesn’t provide subscriptions out of the box. You have to use third-party products, such as Bold or ReCharge.

Like WordPress, WooCommerce is an open-source project — it integrates directly with WordPress. It means that anyone can download WooCommerce and host it on their servers. And the WooCommerce ecosystem is one of the main advantages of WooCommerce compared to obscure e-commerce solutions.

Many WooCommerce users probably host their e-commerce website on WordPress.com. But by controlling the payment module, Automattic can also generate some revenue if WooCommerce users choose to use WooCommerce Subscriptions as their payment solution.