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

This year’s Bessemer Venture Partners’ annual Cloud 100 Benchmark report was published recently and my colleague Alex Wilhelm looked at some broad trends in the report, but digging into the data, I decided to concentrate on the Top 10 companies by valuation. I found that the top company has defied convention for a couple of reasons.

Bessemer looks at private companies. Once they go public, they lose interest, and that’s why certain startups go in and out of this list each year. As an example, Dropbox was the most highly valued company by far with a valuation in the $10 billion range for 2016 and 2017, the earliest data in the report. It went public in 2018 and therefore disappeared.

While that $10 billion benchmark remains a fairly good measure of a solidly valued cloud company, one company in particular blew away the field in terms of valuation, an outlier so huge, its value dwarfs even the mighty Snowflake, which was valued at over $12 billion before it went public earlier this month.

That company is Stripe, which has an other worldly valuation of $36 billion. Stripe began its ascent to the top of the charts in 2016 and 2017 when it sat behind Dropbox with a $6 billion valuation in 2016 and around $8 billion in 2017. By the time Dropbox left the chart in 2018, Stripe would have likely blown past it when its valuation soared to $20 billion. It zipped up to around $23 billion last year before taking another enormous leap to $36 billion this year.

Stripe remains an outlier not only for its enormous valuation, but also the fact that it hasn’t gone public yet. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden pointed out in article earlier this year, the company has remained quiet about its intentions, although there has been some speculation lately that an IPO could be coming.

What Stripe has done to earn that crazy valuation is to be the cloud payment API of choice for some of the largest companies on the Internet. Consider that Stripe’s customers include Amazon, Salesforce, Google and Shopify and it’s not hard to see why this company is valued as highly as it is.

Stripe came up with the idea of making it simple to incorporate a payments mechanism into your app or website, something that’s extremely time-consuming to do. Instead of building their own, developers tapped into Stripe’s ready-made variety and Stripe gets a little money every time someone bangs on the payment gateway.

When you’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world being involved, and many others large and small, all of those payments running through Stripe’s systems add up to a hefty amount of revenue, and that revenue has led to this amazing valuation.

One other company, you might want to pay attention to here, is UIPath, the robotic process automation company, which was sitting just behind Snowflake with a valuation of over $10 billion. While it’s unclear if RPA, the technology that helps automate legacy workflows, will have the lasting power of a payments API, it certainly has come on strong the last couple of years.

Most of the companies in this report appear for a couple of years as they become unicorns, watch their values soar and eventually go public. Stripe up to this point has chosen not to do that, making it a highly unusual company.

Rigetti raises $79M Series C for its quantum computing platform

Rigetti Computing, the quantum computing startup that is challenging industry heavyweights like IBM, Microsoft and D-Wave, today announced that it has closed a $79 million Series C funding round. The round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with participation from Franklin Templeton, Alumni Ventures Group, DCVC, EDBI, Morpheus Ventures and Northgate Capital.

Bessemer’s Tomer Diari and Veritas Software’s former CEO Mark Leslie will join the company’s board of directors.

Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported that Rigetti was looking to raise about $71 million in what — at least at the time — looked to be a down round. A Rigetti spokesperson declined to share any details about the company’s valuation in this round.

“This round of financing brings us one step closer to delivering quantum advantage to the market,” said Rigetti founder and CEO Chad Rigetti. “The company is dually focused on building scalable, error-corrected quantum computers and supporting high-performance access to current systems over the cloud. Rigetti offers a distinctive hybrid computing access model designed for practical applications.”

Rigetti currently offers its own cloud-based service for access to its machines, as well as through AWS’ Braket service, which is currently in preview. The company also recently won an $8.6 million DARPA award to build a quantum computer that outperforms classical computers.

“It’s hard to find an area where quantum computing won’t be tremendously valuable once quantum advantage is achieved,” said Jonathan Curtis, vice president and portfolio manager at Franklin Equity Group. “We believe that Rigetti is one of a select few leaders in this important emerging market with a strong combination of leading technology, an accomplished and focused team, and important commercial, government and go-to-market relationships.”

While quantum computing has long held a lot of promise, it’s actually starting to make real strides in the last few years, with various companies building working systems that aren’t quite powerful enough for most real-world use cases yet, but that show a lot of promise. Rigetti, maybe more so than others, has focused on these real-world use cases.

“Quantum computing will drive a paradigm shift in high-performance computers as we continue pushing the boundaries of science deeper into the realms of science fiction,” said Diari. “Quantum technology has the potential to unlock significant advancements in biology, chemistry, logistics and material science, and we believe that Rigetti provides the most immediate and clear path to a production-grade system in the market.”

Get your pitchdeck critiqued by Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg at Early Stage

The art of the pitchdeck. Few things are more critical to the success of startups seeding capital. And make no mistake, it is an art.

At TechCrunch Early Stage, our two-day virtual event focused on giving entrepreneurs all the resources they need to build incredible, high-growth early stage companies, we have plenty of content dedicated to the pitchdeck.

From a session on how to think like a PM for VC pitch success led by Lo Toney, to a session on how to time your fundraising sprint led by Jake Saper, to seed funding tips and tricks from Jeff Clavier, there’s something for everyone. Even if you don’t have a product, Charles Hudson will teach you how to sell your idea to investors.

The cherry on top of that pitch perfect sundae? The Pitchdeck Teardown.

Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg will lead the Pitchdeck Teardown, going over the look, feel and information provided within individual pitchdecks to share what they look for, what they don’t want to see, and how to get the best outcome when you send a VC your deck.

The coolest part is that the pitchdecks aren’t theoretical. Early Stage attendees can submit their pitchdecks ahead of time for a chance to see those decks critiqued live on stage.

Interested in being a part of it? Submit your pitchdeck here. But remember, you must be registered as an attendee of Early Stage to be selected.

TC Early Stage has so much to offer. The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations, and marketing. Cyan Bannister is set to explain how to get an investor to say yes to your startup. Asher Abramson will be sharing how to create growth assets for paid channels, lawyers James Alonso and Adam Zagaris will share how to draw up your first contracts, and Priti Choksi is hosting a session on how to get a company acquired rather than selling.

The two-day show features more than 50 sessions, but don’t worry; attendees will get transcripts for all of them. What’s more, most of the speakers, who happen to be investors, are participating in TechCrunch’s CrunchMatch, our platform that connects founders to investors based on shared interests. 

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Buy your ticket today, and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already published. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

Get your TC Early Stage pass today and jump into the inside track on the sessions we announced so far, as well as the ones to be published in the coming weeks.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. 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 .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

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

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

Otonomo raises $46 million to expand its automotive data marketplace

New vehicles today can produce a treasure trove of data. Without the proper tools, that data will sit undisturbed, rendering it worthless.

A number of companies have sprung up to help automakers manage and use data generated from connected cars. Israeli startup Otonomo is one such player that jumped on the scene in 2015 with a cloud-based software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

The startup announced this week it has raised $46 million to take its automotive data platform further. The capital was raised in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The funds will be used to help Otonomo scale its business, improve its products and help it remain competitive, according to the company. Otonomo is also aiming to expand into new markets, particularly South Korea and Japan.

“We now have the expanded resources needed to deliver on our vision of making car data as valuable as possible for the entire transportation ecosystem, while adhering to the strictest privacy and security standards,” Otonomo CEO and founder Ben Volkow said in a statement.

Otonomo’s pitch focuses on creating opportunities to monetize connected car data while keeping it safe from the moment it is captured. Once the data is securely collected, the platform modifies it so companies can use it to develop apps and services for fleets, smart cities and individual customers. The platform also enables GDPR, CCPA and other privacy regulation-compliant solutions using both personal and aggregate data.

Today, Otonomo’s platform takes in 2.6 billion data points a day from more than 20 million vehicles through partnerships with more than automakers, fleets and farm and construction manufacturers. Otonomo has more than 25 partnerships, a list that includes Daimler, BMW, Mitsubishi Motor Company and Avis Budget Group. The company said it’s preparing to bring on seven more customers.

That opportunity for Otonomo is growing based on forecasts, including one from SBD Automotive that predicts connected cars will account for more than 70% of cars sold in North American and European markets in 2020.

Bessemer’s Tess Hatch on the evolving aerospace market and COVID-19 adjustments

The aerospace market is evolving quickly and merging with other segments of tech, making it an exciting space for both startups and investors — but the complications of the global pandemic are being felt by both.

Bessemer Venture Partners investor Tess Hatch has been helping guide companies in their portfolio through these strange times, and has been rolling with the punches herself.

Hatch recently spoke to us about the advice she’s been offering startups, which companies are being hit hardest and where opportunity still lies in the frontier tech world. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Austerity measures and hard-hit hardware

TechCrunch: I’m interested in how the virus is affecting things in the investment world. Have you made any official accommodations, like a change of strategy, or putting off key investments, things like that?

Tess Hatch: Of course, we’re advising startups on things to do, like their employee safety, and implementing working from home, and tools and tips and tricks that can help that. Especially when it comes to hardware companies — it’s kind of hard to work from home when you’re manufacturing.

We’re advising them to really watch their burn, because their top line is not going to hit where they expected it to hit, like a double or triple revenue, it’ll maybe stay the same. If it increases even a little bit, they’re winning. We’re having these individual company-to-company conversations, just advising them on getting through, hopefully just these next couple of quarters, but it could be next year plus.

“We’re advising them to really watch their burn, because their top line is not going to hit where they expected it to. If it increases even a little bit, they’re winning.”
There is the question of new deals that we were looking at and this is a time where entrepreneurs will find amazing opportunities to solve the most pressing/immediate societal challenges and we are here to invest in them. We’re still taking new pitch meetings, new deals, we’re still busy, just doing it in the comfort of our pajamas rather than at the office.

So would you say that it has affected the frequency or the cadence of your investments, on a larger scale?

There’s really been like three partnership meetings since craziness happened. And the number of deals that we’ve talked about in the presentations we’ve had, those have remained the same, but ask that question in three more weeks, and I’m sure it I’ll have a better answer.

One of the funny things we’re talking about is that investors, one of their favorite things is to be able to predict how the future, at least the next year or two, is going to go. But this is one of the greatest times of uncertainty we’ve all lived through. So how are you approaching that when there’s so much that’s uncertain, but there’s so much that you need to know in order to effectively manage your portfolio, give advice and make sound investments?

Right now, it is shaking everything that we’ve believed in so strongly. However, we still are looking out, let’s say two to five-plus years. The real question is if this is going to be, with quarantining and lowering the curve, a little bit more under control by let’s say the summertime, or if this is going to be more than a couple of quarters, say a couple of years.

“It’s like you said, the uncertainty of just not knowing how long or how drastically this is affecting everything.”
One of the many things we are advising is for our companies that are able, raise a bit of extra capital now while the water is shut off, but there’s still a little bit trickling from the showerhead… I have not seen anything like this in my short career, but there are partners at the firm who have been here 20-plus years and while they have never seen this particular situation, I’ve been amazed by their ability to deal with these unique challenges and advise our companies on how to get through this. It’s like you said, the uncertainty of just not knowing how long or how drastically this is affecting everything.

I think that the hardware companies that you mentioned, those may have it the hardest because they involve so much travel, so much mailing back and forth of prototypes for testing. Is there any specific advice that you have for hardware companies that are trying to build a product right now?

Unfortunately, most of them have stopped all travel. We’re trying to do as much as we can virtually. The majority of them are smaller teams that are actually making, let’s say, a drone, or an autonomous robot, and they’re just staying six feet apart and taking all of the necessary precautions, doing every-other shifts. So if, say it’s a six-person team, three of them are working in the morning and three of them are working in the afternoon to increase the distance between all of them. The offices — especially where we’re building drones — are huge, so there’s tons of space for everyone.

The real issue though, is our customers aren’t showing up to work, you know? One of our companies, Impossible Aerospace, sells drones to police and fire departments. This is one of the best times to use drones to deliver emergency medical supplies, or even toilet paper and hand sanitizer to people in need. The ones that do have the drones are happy and they’re using them, but the ones that don’t, they’re so overwhelmed with everything else that’s going on.

There are always leads to follow up on, contracts to hammer out and negotiate, improvements you can make to your sales process. Is this something that there actually is a lot of, that even hardware companies can focus on in these downtimes?

At a high level, I’m sure there are people in the organization that can turn and do that. But think about a sales person or business development, there are certain ones that, their entire job is shaking hands or going to these events. I mean, think of marketing spend with no conferences this year, and all that upsets.

Aerospace between air and space

You wrote an article last week for us about a sort of neglected area of the new space industry, the stratosphere. I feel like people have been chasing this for a long time, but that the drawbacks of being in atmosphere are too much, especially when LEO [low Earth orbit] is getting so cheap. Do you really think that things like balloons and blimps are in the cards?

I agree with you that LEO is definitely becoming more accessible and cheaper and this market is shifting from price per kilogram to time to orbit, with launch vehicles like Rocket Lab’s coming to fruition.

However, there are still so many things one needs to do to modify their sensor for LEO. And with LEO, you’re only over the same area of interest for let’s say 15 minutes of a 90-minute orbit. And even then, the revisit rate over the same spot of Earth, it depends on the orbit, but it’s daily, weekly, sometimes more than weekly. The only way to stay over a single point in space is GEO [geosynchronous orbit], and that’s 36,000 kilometers versus 500 to 1,200 [for LEO].

Gaming-focused investment firm Bitkraft closes in on at least $140 million for its second fund

Esports, video games and the innovations that enable them now occupy a central space in the cultural and commercial fabric of the tech world.

For the investment firm Bitkraft Esports Ventures, the surge in interest means a vast opportunity to invest in the businesses that continue to reshape entertainment and develop technologies which have implications far beyond consoles and controllers.

Increasingly, investors are willing to come along for the ride. The firm, which launched its first fund in 2017 with a $40 million target, is close to wrapping up fundraising on a roughly $140 million new investment vehicle, according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s plans.

Through a spokesperson, Bitkraft confirmed that over the course of 2019 it had invested $50 million into 25 investments across esports and digital entertainment, 21 of which were led by the firm.

The new, much larger, fund for Bitkraft is coming as the firm’s thesis begins to encompass technologies and services that extend far beyond gaming and esports — although they’re coming from a similar place.

Along with its new pool of capital, the firm has also picked up a new partner in Moritz Baier-Lentz, a former Vice President in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs and the number one ranked esports player of Blizzard’s Diablo II PC game in 2003.

While at Goldman, Baier-Lentz worked on the $67 billion Dell acquisition of EMC and the $34 billion acquisition of RedHat by IBM.

The numbers in venture capital — and especially in gaming — aren’t quite at that scale, but there are increasingly big bets being made in and around the games industry as investors recognize its potential. There were roughly $2 billion worth of investments made into the esports industry in 2019, less than half of the whopping $4.5 billion which was invested the prior year, according to the Esports Observer.

As Ethan Kurzweil of Bessemer Venture Partners told TechCrunch last year:

“Gaming is now one of the largest forms of entertainment in the United States, with more than $100B+ spent yearly, surpassing other major mediums like television. Gaming is a new form of social network where you can spend time just hanging with friends/family even outside of the constructs of ‘winning the game.’”

Over $100 billion is nothing to sneer at in a growing category — especially as the definition of what qualifies as an esports investment expands to include ancillary industries and a broader thesis.

For Bitkraft, that means investments which are “born in Internet and gaming, but they have applications beyond that,” says Baier-Lentz. “What we really see on the broader level and what we think bout as a team is this emergence of synthetic reality. [That’s] where we see the future and the growth and the return for our investors.”

Bitkraft’s newest partner, Moritz Baier-Lentz

Baier-Lentz calls this synthetic reality an almost seamless merger of the physical and digital world. It encompasses technologies enabling virtual reality and augmented reality and the games and immersive or interactive stories that will be built around them. 

“Moritz shares our culture, our passion, and our ambition—and comes with massive investment experience from one of the world’s finest investment firms,” said Jens Hilgers, the founding general partner of BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, in a statement. “Furthermore, he is a true core gamer with a strong competitive nature, making him the perfect fit in our diverse global BITKRAFT team. With his presence in New York, we also expand our geographical coverage in one of today’s most exciting and upcoming cities for gaming and esports.”

It helps that, while at Goldman, Baier-Lentz helped develop the firm’s global esports and gaming practice. Every other day he was fielding calls around how to invest in the esports phenomenon from private clients and big corporations, he said.

Interestingly for an esports-focused investment firm, the one area where Bitkraft won’t invest is in Esports teams. instead the focus is on everything that can enable gaming. “We take a broader approach and we make investments in things that thrive on the backbone of a healthy esports industry,” said Baier-Lentz.

In addition to a slew of investments made into various game development studios, the company has also backed Spatial, which creates interactive audio environments; Network Next, a developer of private optimized high speed networks for gaming; and Lofelt, a haptic technology developers.

“Games are the driver of technological innovation and games have prepared us for human machine interaction,” says Baier-Lentz. “We see games and gaming content as the driver of a broader wave of synthetic reality. That would span gaming, sports, and interactive media. [But] we don’t only see it as entertainment… There are economic and social benefits here that are opened up once we transcend between the physical and the digital. I almost see it as the evolution of the internet.”

Where top VCs are investing in open source and dev tools (Part 2 of 2)

In part two of a survey that asks top VCs about exciting opportunities in open source and dev tools, we dig into responses from 10 leading open-source-focused investors at firms that span early to growth stage across software-specific firms, corporate venture arms and prominent generalist firms.

In the conclusion to our survey, we’ll hear from:

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

All eyes are on the next liquidity event when it comes to space startups

At the FAA’s 23rd Annual Commercial Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC on Wednesday, a panel dedicated to the topic of trends in VC around space startups touched on public vs. private funding, the right kinds of space companies that should even be considering venture funding, and, perhaps most notably, the big L: Liquidity.

Moderator Tess Hatch, Vice President at Bessemer Venture Partners, addressed the topic in response to an audience question that noted while we’ve heard a lot about how much money will flow into space-related startups from the VC community, we haven’t actually et seen much in the way of liquidity events that prove out the validity of these investments.

“In 2008, a company called Skybox was created and a handful of years later Google acquired the company for $500 million,” Hatch said. “Every venture capitalist’s ears perked up and they thought ‘Hey, that’s pretty good ROI in a short amount of time – maybe the space thing is an investable area’ and then a ton of venture capital investments flooded into space startups, and all of these venture capitalists made one, or maybe two investments in the area. Since then, there have not been many — if any – liquidity events: Perhaps Virgin Galactic going public via the SPAC (special uprose vehicle) on the New York Stock Exchange late last year would be the second. So we’re still waiting; we’re still waiting for those exits, we are still waiting for companies to pave the path for the 400+ startups in the ecosystem to return our investment.”

Hatch added that she’s looking at a number of companies who have the potential to break this somewhat prolonged exit drought in 2020, including five who are either quite mature in terms of their development, naming SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Planet and Spire as all likely candidates to have some kind of liquidity event in 2020, with the mostly likely being an IPO.

Space as an industry was described to me recently as a ‘maturing’ startup market by Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson, by virtue of the distribution of activity in terms of the overall investment rounds in the sector. There is indeed a lot of activity with early stage companies and seed rounds, but the fact remains that there hasn’t been much in the way of exits, and it’s also worth pointing out that corporate VCs haven’t been as acquisitive in space as some of their consumer and enterprise technology counterparts.

The panel touched on a lot more apart from liquidity, which actually only came up towards the end of the discussion, which included panelists Astranis CEO and co-founder John Gedmark; Capella Space CEO and founder Payam Banazadeh and Rocket Lab VP of Global Commercial Launch Services Shane Fleming. Both Gedmark and Banazadeh addressed aspects of the risks and benefits of seeking VC as a space technology company.

“Not every space business is a venture-backable business,” said Banazadeh earlier in the conversation. “But there are a lot of space businesses that are specifically going after raising venture money, and that’s dangerous for everyone – because at the end of the day venture is looking at high risk, high return. The ‘high return’ comes from being able to get substantial amount of revenue in a market that’s big
enough for those revenues to be coming from. But if your idea is to go build, maybe, some very specific part in a satellite, then you have to make the case of why you’ll be able to make those returns for the investors, and in a lot of cases, that’s just not possible.”

Banazadeh also concedes that doing any kind of space technology development is expensive, and the money has to come from somewhere. Gedmark talked about one popular source, government funding and grants, and why that often isn’t as obviously a positive thing for startups as it might seem.

“Small government grants can be great, and obviously a fantastic source of non dilutive capital,” Gedmark said. “But there is a little bit of a trick there, or something to be aware of: I think people are often surprised how much time is spent in the early days of a startup refining the exact idea and the product, and if you’re not certain that you have the that product market fit […] then, the government grant can be extremely dangerous, because they will fund you to do something that is sort of similar to what to what you’re doing, but it really prevents you changing your approach later; you’re going to end up spending time executing on the specific project of the program manager on the government side and you’re executing on what they want.”

VC funds, on the other hand, come with the built-in expectation that you’re going to refine and potentially even change direction altogether, Gedmark says. Depending on the terms of the public funding you’re seeking, that flexibility may not be part of the arrangement, which ultimately could be more important than a bit of equity dilution.

LaunchDarkly CEO Edith Harbaugh explains why her company raised another $54M

This week, LaunchDarkly announced that it has raised another $54 million. Led by Bessemer Venture Partners and backed by the company’s existing investors, it brings the company’s total funding up to $130 million.

For the unfamiliar, LaunchDarkly builds a platform that allows companies to easily roll out new features to only certain customers, providing a dashboard for things like “canary launches” (pushing new stuff to a small group of users to make sure nothing breaks) or launching a feature only in select countries or territories. By productizing an increasingly popular development concept (“feature flagging”) and making it easier to toggle new stuff across different platforms and languages, the company is quickly finding customers in companies that would rather not spend time rolling their own solutions.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Edith Harbaugh, who filled me in on where the idea for LaunchDarkly came from, how their product is being embraced by product managers and marketing teams and the company’s plans to expand with offices around the world. Here’s our chat, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.