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

Welcome back to the second half of our two-part Boston investor survey.

Catching you up, TechCrunch reached out to a host of Boston-area venture capitalists to get their take on the current state of their market, and what they think might be coming up in the future. More VCs than we initially anticipated got back to us, so we broke the survey into two pieces so that there was enough room to include everyone.

Today, in contrast, we’re looking a little further ahead: Are they seeing green shoots? When is a recovery likely to begin? What’s making them feel hopeful in this tenuous era? Here’s who took part:


Boston VC’s vision of tomorrow

Recovery is going to be slow, but most importantly, the comeback is not going to look like one, sole aha moment for any startup or entrepreneur. After poring through dozens of responses, we distilled that Boston-focused VCs think that recovery will favor Boston-area companies to some degree, as the areas they are working on, or the problems that they are working to solve, will still matter after COVID-19.

On the slowness of recovery, NextView’s Rob Go provided TechCrunch with the most vivid prognostication, saying that “while it’s difficult to predict” when the post-COVID recovery will begin, he anticipates “a swoosh-shaped recovery is more likely” than anything V-shaped. “The recovery is likely to be painfully slow,” the VC added.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that green shoots and fruitful deals are thinner on the ground in Boston today than its startup community probably would have hoped. Momentum through dollars or deals will lead to more sustained recovery. Flare Capital’s Michael Greeley said that it is “still too early” to see green shoots, while other VCs noted that, on a sector-by-sector basis, there are some positive signs that give hope.

Glasswing is an AI-focused fund, making the following comment from its Rudina Seseri interesting, if niche. On the question of green shoots, Seseri said that her firm has “been surprised by the number of companies that are leveraging AI to drive automation, cost savings, optimization and higher performance.” The result of that surprise has been that “over the last five months these companies have beaten their pre-COVID budgets and forecasts for growth.”

The other side of that coin is startup areas that touch on travel or food. It’s hard to find recovery there, for obvious reasons.

The Victress Capital team put the dynamic well: “We’ve also been encouraged by the increased pace in innovation that we’ve seen across sectors where innovation has been slow in the past. From edtech to telehealth to food and beverage and more, we are seeing nimble entrepreneurs pivot or change their businesses to respond to the needs of today.”

Our broadest takeaway is that VC firms have not fully written off any sectors given today’s turbulence. The future, largely according to Boston-focused VCs, is startups that are important after the world opens again and focus on the next generation of businesses. It means that investments might look a bit like a risky game of hopscotch. They’re all trying to land on the deal that accounts for the next generation of businesses.

With that, let’s get into full questions and answers.


Lily Lyman, Underscore VC

When do you expect a startup recovery to begin?

“Recovery” is hard to speak to. We’ve been evaluating different phases of behavior and how that will affect the economy and the startup ecosystem. We have been thinking in terms of (1) lockdown opening up (summer 2020); (2) period of remaining social distancing behavior, likely with intermittent periods of lockdowns (into spring 2021); and (3) new normal (spring/summer 2021). But this changes and we are constantly reassessing it. For startups, we remain believers that great companies with great leadership can not only survive but find ways to thrive in this new environment.

Are you seeing green shoots regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum that you didn’t expect a few weeks ago?

Again, it varies by industry. We have seen a surge in demand for players in the cloud infrastructure space such as CloudZero or for remote collaboration software (an investment not yet announced).

Tell us about the most interesting, Boston-based company you’ve invested in recently.

We are really excited about Popcart and how they are positioned as the world rapidly migrates to e-commerce. The founding team is a pair of engineer leaders from Endeca. Popcart offers consumers price and availability transparency across retail platforms (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.). The cross-platform capabilities are particularly unique. When COVID-19 hit, the team quickly created the Supply Finder to help consumers find goods that are in short supply and ensure they are protected against price gouging.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the past 30 days? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.

I’m inspired by the great leadership I’ve seen our founders display. They’ve made hard decisions with imperfect information and managed a difficult time with both empathy and conviction.

I’m also appreciating the humanizing reality that working from home and operating in uncertainty brings that unites people. My hope is that pieces of this uniting and empathy will persist.

RiskIQ adds National Grid Partners as securing data becomes a strategic priority for utilities

RiskIQ, a startup providing application security, risk assessment and vulnerability management services, has added National Grid Partners as a strategic investor. 

The funding from the investment arm of National Grid, a multinational energy provider, is part of a $15 million new round of financing designed to take the company’s technology into critical industrial infrastructure — with National Grid as a point of entry.

Over 6,000 companies use the company’s services already and the roster list and technology on offer has attracted some of the biggest names in investing including Summit Partners, Battery Ventures, Georgian Partners and MassMutual Ventures.

“We view NGP’s show of support as an incredible opportunity to help customers in new markets thrive as their attack surfaces expand outside the firewall, especially now amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said RiskIQ chief executive Lou Manousos said, in a statement. 

RiskIQ has spent the past ten years spidering the Internet looking for all of the exploits that hackers use to penetrate networks and have built that into a database of threats. This inventory gives the company an ability to identify which assets within a company present the most obvious threats. Its automated services constantly scan third-party code, internet-connected devices and mobile applications for potential vulnerabilities, the company said.

As a staple platform in their core security environment, our cyber threat analysts use RiskIQ regularly to enrich and identify incoming threats,” said Lisa Lambert, president of National Grid Partners and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of National Grid, in a statement.

National Grid’s investment is a piece of a deeper partnership that will see NGP providing strategic advice for the security company as it looks to expand its commercial operations among industrial and utility customers.

 

Lucid Lane has developed a service to get patients off of pain meds and avoid addiction

Four years ago, Adnan Asar, the founder of the new addiction prevention service Lucid Lane, was enjoying a successful career working as the founding chief technology officer at Livongo Health. It was the serial senior tech executive’s most recent job after a long stint at Shutterfly and he was shepherding the company through the development of its suite of hardware and software for the management of chronic conditions.

But when Asar’s wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he stepped away from the technology world to be with his family while she underwent treatment.

He did not know at the time that the decision would set him on the path to founding Lucid Lane. The company’s mission is to help give patients who have been prescribed medications to address pain and anxiety ways to wean themselves off those drugs and avoid addiction — and its purpose is born from the struggle Asar witnessed as his wife wrestled with how to stop taking the medication she was prescribed during her illness.

Asar’s wife isn’t alone. In 2018, there were roughly 168.2 million prescriptions for opioids written in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lucid Lane estimates that 50 million people are prescribed opioids and another 13 million are prescribed benzodiazepines each year either after surgery or in conjunction with cancer treatments — all without a plan for how to manage or taper the use of these highly addictive medications.

For Asar’s wife, it was the benzodiazepine prescribed as part of her cancer treatment that became an issue. “She was hit by very severe withdrawal symptoms and we didn’t know what was going on,” Asar said. When they consulted her physician he gave the couple two options — quitting cold turkey or remaining on the medication.

“My wife decided to go cold turkey,” Asar said. “It was really debilitating for the whole family.”

It took nine months of therapy and regular consultations with psychiatrists to help with tailoring medication dosages and tapering to get her off of the medication, said Asar. And that experience led to the launch of Lucid Lane.

“Our goal is to prevent and control medication and substance dependence,” Asar said.

The company’s telehealth solution is built on a proprietary treatment protocol meant to provide continuous daily support and interventions, along with proactive monitoring of a personalized treatment plan — all on an ongoing basis, said Asar. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic is only accelerating the need for telehealth services. “COVID-19 has made telehealth a mandatory service instead of a discretionary service,” said Asar. “There’s a surge in anxiety, depression, substance use and medication use. We’re seeing a surge of patients who are reaching out to us.”

Asar sees Lucid Lane’s competitors as companies like Lyra Health and Ginger, or point solutions building digital diagnostics to detect anxiety and depression. But unlike some companies that are launching to treat addiction or addictive behaviors, Asar sees his startup as preventing dependency and addiction.

“A lot of people are sliding into these addictions through something that happens at the doctor’s office,” said Asar. ” Our solution does not prescribe any of these medications.”

The company is working on clinical studies that are set to start at the Palo Alto VA hospital, and has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including Battery Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, the investment firm founded by Jerry Yang.

“We see great potential for Lucid Lane, as it has developed a scalable solution to one of the biggest problems facing society today,” said Battery general partner Dharmesh Thakker, in a statement. “Telehealth solutions have emerged as highly capable of addressing complex problems, and Lucid Lane has embraced remote care from its beginning. Its design enables care anytime, anywhere for patients in their moment of need. This can make a tremendous difference in the battle between recovery and relapse. We believe that it will help millions of people lead better lives.”

Joining Asar in the development of the company and its healthcare protocols are a seasoned team of health professionals, including Dr. Ahmed Zaafran, a board certified anesthesiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and assistant professor of anesthesiology (affiliated) at Stanford University School of Medicine; and advisors like Dr. Vanila Singh, who was also previously chairperson of the HHS Task Force in conjunction with the DOD and the VA to address the opioid drug crisis; Dr. Carin Hagberg, the chair of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine of MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Sherif Zaafran, the president of the Texas Medical Board and chair of multiple national committees on pain management, including the subcommittee Taskforce on Pain Management Services for HHS, as well as the department’s Pain Clinical Pathways Committee.

“Lucid Lane provides a patient-centered solution that allows for the best clinical outcomes for patients after surgery and those bravely finishing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Singh, in a statement. “For the many patients who require short-term opioids and benzodiazepine medications, Lucid Lane’s treatment can limit the risk of prolonged dependence of these medications while also ensuring effective pain control with a resulting improved quality of life and functioning.”

The Station: Pony.ai turns to delivery, Kodiak cuts, Lime snaps up Boosted’s IP

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

What you’re reading here is an abbreviated version of The Station. To get the complete newsletter, which comes out every weekend, go here and click The Station.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at [email protected]h.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Let’s go.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

There wasn’t a ton of news in micromobility this week, but I came across an interesting read over at City Lab about whether or not cities should financially support micromobility services. Shared bikes and scooters provide transportation options to city-dwellers during a time when some cities are deciding to scale back public transportation operations in order to keep its employees and residents safe.

In Portland, City Lab pointed to how the city agreed to temporarily waive e-scooter fees as long as Spin passed those savings on to riders. Now, Spin rides cost about 50% less in Portland.

But, as the authors write, “While we believe that waiving e-scooter fees and offering public funding may be necessary, we harbor no illusions that it would be easy to do so in the current fiscal environment.”

— Megan Rose Dickey

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear things. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

Layoffs are nothing new in this COVID-19 world. More than 260 startups have laid off 25,010 workers, according Layoffs.fyi, a website that is attempting to track cuts in the startup ecosystem amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all of these layoffs are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, the pandemic has merely augmented pre-existing problems. One such example is Kodiak Robotics, an autonomous trucking startup, that laid off 20% of its staff on Wednesday (about 15 of its 85-person staff). The Information was the first to report the layoffs and TechCrunch has since confirmed those numbers. The official line is that Kodiak reduced its headcount due to the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on the economy. The move was couched as the best way to position Kodiak for the future.

We’ve learned from several people that the company was already facing considerable headwinds on the fundraising front.

Kodiak Robotics came out of stealth in August 2018 with $40 million in a Series A funding round led by Battery Ventures. CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. The company likely attracted interest and investment because of its founders. CEO Don Burnette was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber then acquired Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Paz Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.

The pair scaled up quickly. The company, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., went on a hiring spree in 2019 and opened a new facility in North Texas to support commercial deliveries using its fleet of eight trucks. Autonomous vehicle technology startups are already capitally intensive. But Kodiak was also trying to launch a carrier service — not just develop the self-driving truck stack.

Fundraising efforts started late last year and Kodiak was hoping to raise a $100 million round on a $300 million pre-money valuation, according to two sources. It was suggested that Kodiak already had a lead. However, the company has had trouble closing a Series B round with attractive terms, according to several sources who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity. When COVID-19 erupted it put more pressure on the startup.

Kodiak is hardly alone. Autonomous vehicle technology startups have had a more tepid reception from investors since spring 2019. It’s still possible to raise funds. But it’s harder now — particularly those seeking larger raises — and the terms are less desirable.

Another autonomous delivery pivot

the station autonomous vehicles1

Pony .ai is the latest autonomous vehicle startup to turn its efforts to delivery — at least temporarily. The company announced this week it will partner with e-commerce platform Yamibuy to provide autonomous last-mile delivery service to customers in Irvine, Calif.

The new delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pony.ai said.

Pony.ai, which recently raised $400 million from Toyota Motor Corporation, has focused on shuttling people, not packages. The company has launched ridesharing and commuter pilots in Fremont and Irvine, Calif. and Guangzhou, China.

Pony.ai now said it will use its Irvine robotaxi fleet of 10 electric Hyundai Kona vehicles for delivery through at least mid-summer. It’s not clear how, or if, Pony.ai can generate revenue with this new delivery service. The company is in talks with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that issues AV testing permits, about this issue. The DMV doesn’t allow AV testing fleets to charge money by delivering goods or rides. However, a deployment permit, which Pony.ai is still waiting to receive, does allow for commercial use, just not a delivery fee.

Pronto.ai makes a move

the station semi truck

Pronto.ai, a startup co-founded by controversial star engineer Anthony Levandowski, is not pursuing Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology. Instead, the company is developing an advanced driver assistance system product for trucks, called Copilot. Pronto AI was originally called Kache.ai, according to paperwork discovered at the time by TechCrunch, and was registered as a corporation with the California Secretary of State.

The startup has maintained a low profile since August 2019, when Levandowski was indicted by a federal grand jury on theft of trade secrets, forcing him to step down as CEO. Levandowski has since reached a plea deal. Now, it seems that the company is making some moves.

Pronto.ai recently applied for a five-year exemption from the federal government that would let drivers in trucks with Pronto’s Copilot technology stay on the road longer than current rules allow. The request to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which was first reported by Freight Waves, would let drivers drive up to 13 hours within a 15-consecutive hour driving window after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Drivers are typically allowed to drive up to 11 hours in a 14-hour window, after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours.

Lime swoops up Boosted IP

Boosted, the startup behind the Boosted Boards and, more recently, the Boosted Rev electric scooter, would typically fall into micromobbin’. But it deserves it’s own segment this week.

Five weeks ago, Boosted laid off “a significant portion” of its team and began actively seeking a buyer. It seems that a sale never materialized and Lime swooped in and bought up Boosted’s core patents, according to a report from The Verge. Lime was apparently working on acquiring Boosted’s intellectual property since the end of 2019. The shared scooter company snapped up the IP after a proposed acquisition from Yamaha fell through for Boosted.

Boosted co-founder and former CEO Sanjay Dastoor, who left the board 18 months ago, posted a message to the Boosted subreddit shortly after The Verge story published that suggests Lime’s acquisition was broader than originally thought.

Dastoor wrote that the company is closed and will likely enter into some form of bankruptcy protection. He also wrote that Lime purchased all the assets and IP of the company and appears to be in possession of everything at Boosted’s headquarters in Mountain View, including access to the building. Here’s one important nugget:

As far as I can tell, this includes design files, software and code, diagnostics, parts, and test equipment I’m not sure if this includes the responsibility for warranty coverage for boards and scooters sold before. I do know that a handful of former engineers at Boosted, most senior is Michael Hillman who joined as VP Engineering last year, are now at Lime and may be able to help. Regardless of how this is structured, if we want our products to continue being supported, including parts for boards or any software diagnostic tests and debugging, their cooperation and help will be needed.

He added that some Boosted employees have been trying unsuccessfully to service and send boards back to customers for weeks.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that those boards should rightfully get back to their owners and should be safe to ride, and I’m trying to find a way to help with this,” Dastoor wrote. “In the meantime, I’d recommend folks who are looking to get in touch more urgently should reach out to Lime directly.”

Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

Thundra, an early stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from OpsGenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at OpsGenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly-changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level,” he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in OpsGenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built OpsGenie. These guys are very microservices oriented, very product oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on prem version in the near future.

Sisense nabs $100m at a $1B+ valuation for accessible big data business analytics

Sisense, an enterprise startup that that has built a business analytics business out of the premise of making big data as accessible as possible to users — whether it be through graphics on mobile or desktop apps, or spoken through Alexa — is announcing a big round of funding today and a large jump in valuation to underscore its traction. The company has picked up $100 million in a growth round of funding that catapults Sisense’s valuation to over $1 billion, funding that it plans to use to continue building out its tech, as well as for sales, marketing and development efforts.

For context, this is a huge jump: the company was valued at only around $325 million in 2016 when it raised a Series E, according to PitchBook. (It did not disclose valuation in 2018, when it raised a venture round of $80 million.) It now has some 2,000 customers, including Tinder, Philips, Nasdaq, and the Salvation Army.

This latest round is being led by the high-profile enterprise investor Insight Venture Partners, with Access Industries, Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ Growth, and others also participating. The Access investment was made via Claltech in Israel and it seems that this led to some details of this getting leaked out as rumors in recent days. Insight is in the news today for another big deal: wearing its private equity hat, the firm acquired Veeam for $5 billion. (And that speaks to a particular kind of trajectory for enterprise companies that the firm backs: Veeam had already been a part of Insight’s venture portfolio.)

Mature enterprise startups proven their business cases are going to be an ongoing theme this year fundraising stories, and Sisense is part of that theme, with annual recurring revenues of over $100 million speaking to its stability and current strength. The company has also made some key acquisitions to boost its business, such as the acquisition of Periscope Data last year (coincidentally also for $100 million, I understand).

Its rise also speaks to a different kind of trend in the market: in the wider world of business intelligence, there is an increasing demand for more digestible data in order to better tap advances in data analytics to use it across organizations. This was also one of the big reasons why Salesforce gobbled up Tableau last year for a slightly higher price: $15.7 billion.

Sisense, bringing in both sleek end user products but also a strong theme of harnessing the latest developments in areas like machine learning and AI to crunch the data and order it in the first place, represents a smaller and more fleet of foot alternative for its customers. “We found a way to make accessing data extremely simple, mashing it together in a logical way and embedding it in every logical place,” explained CEO Amir Orad to us in 2018.

“We have enjoyed watching the Sisense momentum in the past 12 months, the traction from its customers as well as from industry leading analysts for the company’s cloud native platform and new AI capabilities. That coupled with seeing more traction and success with leading companies in our portfolio and outside, led us to want to continue and grow our relationship with the company and lead this funding round,” said Jeff Horing, Managing Director at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement.

To note, Access Industries is an interesting backer who might also potentially shape up to be strategic, given its ownership of Warner Music Group, Alibaba, Facebook, Square, Spotify, Deezer, Snap and Zalando.

“Given our investments in market leading companies across diverse industries, we realize the value in analytics and machine learning and we could not be more excited about Sisense’s trajectory and traction in the market,” added Claltech’s Daniel Shinar in a statement.

Cheq raises another $16M to fight ad fraud

Cheq, a startup focused on preventing ad fraud and ensuring that ads run in brand-safe environments, has raised $16 million in Series B funding.

When the company raised its $5 million Series A last year, CEO Guy Tytunovich contrasted Cheq’s approach with what he called “first generation solutions for ad verification” — rather than identifying fraud and other issues after an ad has already run, he said Cheq is more proactive and can block ads from being served in real time.

I caught up with Tytunovich yesterday, and he told me that this approach remains one of Cheq’s strengths.

At the same time, he also acknowledged that “refunds, rebates and make goods” are allowing advertisers to achieve a kind of retroactive prevention. So he’s increasingly focused on Cheq’s accuracy.

Tytunovich suggested that rather than simply relying on keywords (an approach that might suggest that a relatively innocuous article like “LeBron James killed it last night” isn’t an appropriate place to serve an ad), Cheq is examining 1,200 different factors, “looking for anomalies or looking where the fraudster did some sloppy work.”

He added, “We investigate every single impression in JavaScript. We are extremely deterministic to not cause this damage of false positives and false negatives.”

And Tytunovich said that despite the number of companies tackling the issue, fraud is still growing — he pointed to a recent report from Cheq estimating that fraud will cost advertisers $23 billion this year.

“You need to be smarter every day,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing in ad fraud, not just different types of sophisticated fraud — as the time goes by we see more and more of that organized crime type of ad fraud. Which is fascinating on the one hand, but also it’s kind of frightening if you really think about it.”

The new funding was led by Battery Ventures (which also led the Series A) and MizMaa Ventures. The latter is an Israeli firm that Tytunovich said already “helped tremendously” with things like introductions, even before making an investment.

Cheq is also moving into new areas like connected TV and console gaming.

Ultimately, Tytunovich said he wants the company to become the “immune system of the internet” — which doesn’t just mean detecting ad fraud, but also becoming “a solution to everything that sucks about digital advertising specifically, things like fake news and how advertising relates to that.”

The first hires are the hardest

Welcome to this edition of The Operators, a recurring Extra Crunch column, podcast and YouTube show that brings you insights and information from inside of tech companies. Our guests are execs with operational experience at both fast-rising startups like Brex, Calm, DocSend and Zeus Living, along with more established companies like AirBnB, Facebook, Google and Uber. Here, they share strategies and tactics for building your first company and charting your career in tech.

In this episode, we’re talking about hiring and recruiting:

  1. Why people take the risk of working at early-stage startups
  2. When and how to work with recruiters
  3. How to make your first hires

A company’s first hires are often the hardest; money is usually too tight to pay competitive salaries, there’s no recognizable brand or reputation yet and most people would prefer to work at a company their friends and family have heard of before. There’s also fair presumption of risk and unviability — who wants to take a job that might not be around in a year?

Startup founders overcome these odds on a regular basis. To figure out how, we spoke with two experts:

Farah Sharghi-Dolatabadi began her career as a software developer and financial advisor before moving into recruiting. She’s been a recruiter at startups in addition to companies like Google and Lyft. She’s currently a senior technical recruiter at Uber and an active career coach at HireClub.

Kelly Kinnard is Vice President of Talent at Battery Ventures, where she’s worked with startups like Wag, Coupa, Fastly, and Gainsight. She also has experience at top recruiting firms and in executive search at Oracle.

Below is a synthesized summary of our conversation; check out The Operators for the full episode.

Why people take the risk of working at early-stage startups

Most early-stage startups fail. That shouldn’t be news to anyone. Still, however unlikely big outcomes are, the possibility of being a part of the next Facebook or Uber is tempting, and taking a job at a brand new company may even rational on an expected value basis.

Sometimes it’s not just the chance at a big financial outcome. We’ve heard early-stage employees say they made their choice based for more intangible reasons, like having more autonomy in their work, seeking a less structured environment, working with a certain type or set of colleagues, wanting a sense of adventure or purpose and the opportunity for more rapid career progression.

It may not be possible for an early-stage startup to offer market-rate compensation, but they can personalize the opportunity for early employees.

“Be creative and do things like cater to that individual and think about it on a case by case basis,” said Kinnard. “If that candidate really wants to work from home two days a week because they have a dog and you can’t allow dogs in the office, and they want to be able to walk their dog or go pick up their child from school after school, then try to customize things according to each individual.” But don’t forget that compensation still matters, as do market rates. According to Kinnard, “cash is still king, and I think sometimes I see founders and I see CEOs be unrealistic about what they expect to be able to pay people. A part of what I do is provide them with competitive comp data so they can look at the data and [see] here’s what 3000 companies that we’ve surveyed have suggested the compensation ranges.”

Creative problem-solving pays dividends in recruiting, just like in does with most other problems startups need to solve. Experienced recruiters can help companies figure out how to get creative, but how do you know if working a recruiter is right for you?

 

When and how to work with recruiters

At TechCrunch Disrupt, insights into key trends in venture capital

At TechCrunch Disrupt, the original tech startup conference, venture capitalists remain amongst the premier guests.

VCs are responsible for helping startups — the focus of the three-day event — get off the ground and as such, they are often the most familiar with trends in the startup ecosystem, ready to deliver insights, anecdotes and advice to our audience of entrepreneurs, investors, operators, managers and more.

In the first half of 2019, VCs spent $66 billion purchasing equity in promising upstarts, according to the latest data from PitchBook. At that pace, VC spending could surpass $100 billion for the second year in a row. We plan to welcome a slew of investors to TechCrunch Disrupt to discuss this major feat and the investing trends that have paved the way for recording funding.

Mega-funds and the promise of unicorn initial public offerings continue to drive investment. SoftBank, of course, began raising its second Vision Fund this year, a vehicle expected to exceed $100 billion. Meanwhile, more traditional VC outfits revisited limited partners to stay competitive with the Japanese telecom giant. Andreessen Horowitz, for example, collected $2.75 billion for two new funds earlier this year. We’ll have a16z general partners Chris Dixon, Angela Strange and Andrew Chen at Disrupt for insight into the firm’s latest activity.

At the early-stage, the fight for seed deals continued, with larger funds moving downstream to muscle their way into seed and Series A financings. Pre-seed has risen to prominence, with new funds from Afore Capital and Bee Partners helping to legitimize the stage. Bolstering the early-stage further, Y Combinator admitted more than 400 companies across its two most recent batches,

We’ll welcome pre-seed and seed investor Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and Redpoint Ventures general partner Annie Kadavy to give founders tips on how to raise VC. Plus, Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel and Ali Rowghani, the CEO of YC’s Continuity Fund, which invests in and advises growth-stage startups, will join us on the Disrupt Extra Crunch stage ready with tips on how to get accepted to the respected accelerator.

Moreover, activity in high-growth sectors, particularly enterprise SaaS, has permitted a series of outsized rounds across all stages of financing. Speaking on this trend, we’ll have AppDynamics founder and Unusual Ventures co-founder Jyoti Bansal and Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal in conversation with TechCrunch’s enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

We would be remiss not to analyze activity on Wall Street in 2019, too. As top venture funds refueled with new capital, Silicon Valley’s favorite unicorns completed highly-anticipated IPOs, a critical step towards bringing a much needed bout of liquidity to their investors. Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom, PagerDuty, Slack and several others went public this year and other well-financed companies, including Peloton, Postmates and WeWork have completed paperwork for upcoming public listings. To detail this year’s venture activity and IPO extravaganza, David Krane, CEO and managing partner of Uber and Slack investor GV will be on deck, as will Sequoia general partner Jess Lee, Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko and Aspect Ventures’ Theresia Gouw.

There’s more where that came from. In addition to the VCs already named, Disrupt attendees can expect to hear from Bessemer Venture Partners’ Tess Hatch, who will provide her expertise on the growing “space economy.” Forerunner Ventures’ Eurie Kim will give the Extra Crunch Stage audience tips on building a subscription product, Mithril Capital’s Ajay Royan will explore opportunities in the medical robotics field, SOSV’s Arvind Gupta will dive deep into the cutting edge world of health tech and more.

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

Hear how to build a billion-dollar SaaS company at TechCrunch Disrupt

There was a time when brick-and-mortar mom and pops framed their first $1 on the wall, but in the SaaS startup the equivalent milestone is $1 billion revenue run-rate.

Salesforce is the SaaS revenue king reporting $4 billion in revenue for its most recent quarterly report, and there are many other relatively new SaaS companies, such as WorkDay, ServiceNow and Atlassian, that have broken the $1 billion barrier.

This year at TechCrunch Disrupt (tickets here!), we welcome three people to the Extra Crunch stage who know first hand what it takes to join the billion dollar club.

Neeraj Agrawal, a partner at Battery Ventures and seasoned enterprise investor, presented his growth thesis in a widely read article for TechCrunch where he outlined the key milestones for a SaaS company to reach a billion dollars.

Whitney Bouck is COO at HelloSign, a startup that was sold to Dropbox in 2018 for $230 million. Bouck was also an executive at Box, guiding their enterprise business from 2011-2015. Prior to that she was at Documentum, which exited in 2003 to EMC for $1.7 billion.

Jyoti Bansal is currently co-founder & CEO of Harness. Previously, he was founder & CEO of AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 for $3.7 billion. Bansal is also an investor as co-founder of venture capital firm Unusual Ventures.

The goal of this panel is to help you understand the tools and strategies that go into ramping to a billion in revenue and beyond. It requires a rare combination of good idea, product-market fit, culture and commitment. It also requires figuring out how to evolve the core idea and recover from inevitable mistakes — all while selling investors on your vision.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email [email protected] to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.