End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

At Battery, a central part of our consumer investing practice involves tracking the evolution of where and how consumers find and purchase goods and services. From our annual Battery Marketplace Index, we’ve seen seismic shifts in how consumer purchasing behavior has changed over the years, starting with the move to the web and, more recently, to mobile and on-demand via smartphones.

The evolution looks like this in a nutshell: In the early days, listing sites like Craigslist, Angie’s List* and Yelp effectively put the Yellow Pages online — you could find a new restaurant or plumber on the web, but the process of contacting them was largely still offline. As consumers grew more comfortable with the web, marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, Expedia and Wayfair* emerged, enabling historically offline transactions to occur online.

More recently, and spurred in large part by mobile, on-demand use cases, managed marketplaces like Uber, DoorDash, Instacart and StockX* have taken online consumer purchasing a step further. They play a greater role in the operations of the marketplace, from automatically matching demand with supply, to verifying the supply side for quality, to dynamic pricing.

The key purpose of being end-to-end is to deliver an even better value proposition to consumers relative to incumbent alternatives.

Each stage of this evolution unlocked billions of dollars in value, and many of the names listed above remain the largest consumer internet companies today.

At their core, these companies are facilitators, matching consumer demand with existing supply of a product or service. While there is no doubt these companies play a hugely valuable role in our lives, we increasingly believe that simply facilitating a transaction or service isn’t enough. Particularly in industries where supply is scarce, or in old-guard industries where innovation in the underlying product or service is slow, a digitized marketplace — even when managed — can produce underwhelming experiences for consumers.

In these instances, starting from the ground up is what is really required to deliver an optimal consumer experience. Back in 2014, Chris Dixon wrote a bit about this phenomenon in his post on “Full stack startups.” Fast forward several years, and more startups than ever are “full stack” or as we call it, “end-to-end operators.”

These businesses are fundamentally reimagining their product experience by owning the entire value chain, from end to end, thereby creating a step-functionally better experience for consumers. Owning more in the stack of operations gives these companies better control over quality, customer service, delivery, pricing and more — which gives consumers a better, faster and cheaper experience.

It’s worth noting that these end-to-end models typically require more capital to reach scale, as greater upfront investment is necessary to get them off the ground than other, more narrowly focused marketplacesBut in our experience, the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.

End-to-end operators span many verticals

Many of these businesses have reached meaningful scale across industries:

All of these companies have recognized they can deliver more value to consumers by “owning” every aspect of the underlying product or service — from the bike to the workout content in Peloton’s case, or the bank account to the credit card in Chime’s case. They have reinvented and reimagined the entire consumer experience, from end to end.

What does success for end-to-end operator businesses look like?

As investors, we’ve had the privilege of meeting with many of these next-generation end-to-end operators over the years and found that those with the greatest success tend to exhibit the five key elements below:

1. Going after very large markets

The end-to-end approach makes the most sense when disrupting very large markets. In the graphic above, notice that most of these companies play in the largest, but notoriously archaic industries like banking, insurance, real estate, healthcare, etc. Incumbents in these industries are very large and entrenched, but they are legacy players, making them slow to adopt new technology. For the most part, they have failed to meet the needs of our digital-native, mobile-savvy generation and their experiences lag behind consumer expectations of today (evidenced by low, or sometimes even negative, NPS scores). Rebuilding the experience from the ground up is sometimes the only way to satisfy today’s consumers in these massive markets.

2. Step-functionally better consumer experience versus the status quo

Telehealth startup Hims fell in its public trading debut — and that’s fine with its CEO

Hims & Hers, a San Francisco-based telehealth startup that sells sexual wellness and other health products and services to millennials, began trading publicly today on the NYSE after completing a reverse merger with the blank-check company Oaktree Acquisition Corp.

Its shares slipped a bit, ending the day down 5% from where they started, but the company, which was founded in 2017 and now claims nearly 300,000 paying subscribers for its various offerings, has never been focused on a splashy headline about its first-day performance, co-founder and CEO Andrew Dudum told us earlier today.

On the contrary, Dudum says that while Hims might have once imagined a traditional IPO, it decided to go the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) route because of their pricing mechanisms and because it was approached by a SPAC led by renowned money manager Howard Marks, the founder of the global alternative investment firm Oaktree Capital Management. (“We fell in love with the Oaktree team and the capital market experience and deep resources they have.”)

We talked with Dudum about that SPAC’s structure; the lockups involved now that Hims’ shares are trading; and how much of the business still centers around one of its first offerings, which was a generic version of erectile dysfunction pills. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

TC: You’re a Bay Area-based company selling to a mostly U.S. audience. How are you thinking about expanding that footprint geographically?

AD: We do have a small operation selling in the U.K.; we’re getting our feet wet in that market and building out a team and infrastructure and fulfillment. If you look at the regulatory landscape, there’s a huge amount of room [to grow] in Europe, Australia, Canada, the Middle East and Asia, and so in that order, we’ll start to [move into those markets].

TC: What is your average customer cost? 

AD: It has come down from $200 when we first launched, to roughly $100 last year, and we make, on average, close to $300 in the first couple of years in terms of a patient’s lifetime value.

TC: How quickly do customers churn?

AD: We break down lifetime value projections by quarter cohorts, and quarter over quarter, year over year, we’re monetizing each of these cohorts better, with high margin profiles.

As of last quarter, the business was growing 90% year-over-year, with 76% gross margins and greater cash efficiency, and that’s because as we provide more offerings, there is more cross purchasing. Also, word of mouth is becoming more of a dynamic, with more than 50% of the traffic to the site free at this point because we have built a brand with a young demographic.

TC: When are you projecting that you’ll turn profitable?

AD: We’ve reduced our annual burn and increased our margin efficiency and organic growth, so on a quarterly basis, we think in the next couple of years is a real possibility.

Image Credits: Hims & Hers

TC: Hims’s first wellness offerings included pills for male pattern hair loss and erectile dysfunction. How much revenue does that ED business account for?

AD: What we’ve disclosed is that roughly half [of our revenue] is that sexual health category — which includes [medicines for] generic erectile dysfunction, birth control, STDs, UTIs and premature ejaculation. The other half is predominately dermatology, including hair care [to address hair loss] and acne, and we’ve more recently moved into primary care and behavioral health.

TC: For retail investors, how do you differentiate the business from that of your rival Ro, which heavily promotes its ED products?

AD: There are a number of core differences between us and public and private players. First is our real focus on diversifying our offerings. With our focus on sexual health, dermatology, primary care and behavioral health, it’s in our DNA to quickly expand into new businesses.

We also think we’re different from most [rivals] in that we really invest time in building deep relationships with [those who represent] the future of healthcare markets — people in their teens, 20s and 30s. This demographic has a different set of tech expectations and consumer expectations than people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and if we want to build for the future, that means building for largest body of payers in the future.

Traditional healthcare companies monetize only the sick, but optimizing around that demographic precludes you from understanding what the next generation really needs and wants. I’ve never seen such a divergence between a patient population and legacy experience, and that’s a real advantage to us as a business.

TC: Hims just went public through a SPAC in a deal that gives the company around $280 million in cash – $205 million of that from Oaktree’s blank-check company and another $75 million through a private placement deal. How much runway does that give you?

AD: The company doesn’t burn a tremendous amount — between $10 million and $20 million a year — so a relatively long runway if we keep operating the business as is. But it does allow us to expand and grow into new businesses, too, including into big categories like sleep, infertility, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

TC: What about acquisitions?

AD: We’ll keep an eye open for strategic opportunities and consolidation opportunities. More than a dozen businesses a month come to us to be consolidated into the brand, but generally speaking, we’ve had the belief that so much is in front of us that we don’t want to be distracted.

TC: Is there a lockup period for anyone?

AD: There’s a traditional lock-up for executives and employees and the board.

TC: Did your SPAC sponsors get a board seat?

AD: No.

TC: How much do they now own of the company, and can they sell?

AD: Oaktree owns a couple percent and [the syndicate they brought to do the private placement] [owns] 12% But the very reason we went with them was the quality of the team and the organization . . . and they have the added incentive for the next year or two from a compensation standpoint for the company to succeed and to prove [out their thesis that Hims is a smart investment].

TC: Do you think the traditional IPO process is broken?

AD: The traditional IPO market hasn’t changed. It takes 12 to 18 months of preparation, which is a crazy amount of time for management to be distracted, then there’s this one-day PIPE that gives institutions a tremendous amount of money instantaneously. Maybe it makes for a good CNBC headline but at tremendous cost to the company. It’s atrocious. If you were a founder or employee and getting diluted twice as much as you have to be, you’d be really upset. It’s no surprise to me that founders like myself are looking at other modalities with better pricing and better structures.

Indian stock exchanges approve $3.4B Reliance and Future deal in setback for Amazon

Indian stock exchanges approved the $3.4 billion deal between retail giants Reliance Retail and Future Group on late Wednesday in yet another setback for Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market and sought to block the aforementioned deal.

The Bombay Stock Exchange said in a notification that it had spoken with India’s markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and had no objection or adverse observation on the deal.

Wednesday’s notification is the latest setback for Amazon, which had written to SEBI and Indian antitrust watchdog to block the multi-billion deal between Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India. Last year, India’s antitrust group gave a go ahead to the deal to the Indian firms.

“We hereby advise that we have no adverse observations with limited reference to those matters having a bearing on listing/de-listing/continuous listing requirements within the provisions of Listing Agreement, so as to enable the company to file the scheme with Hon’ble NCLT [National Company Law Tribunal],” the notification read. SEBI has advised Future to share various aspects of its ongoing litigation with Amazon to NCLT, whose approval for the deal is pending.

Amazon bought 49% stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms in 2019 in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of the deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon has said in court filings.

Things changed last year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.

Amazon later protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.

The two estranged partners also fought at the Delhi High Court last year, which in a rare glimmer of hope for the American giant rejected Future’s plea for an ad-interim injunction to restrain Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over — and halt — the deal between the two Indian giants.

An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the firm will continue to pursue legal remedies. “The letters issued by BSE & NSE clearly state that the comments of SEBI on the ‘draft scheme of arrangement’ (proposed transaction) are subject to the outcome of the ongoing Arbitration and any other legal proceedings. We will continue to pursue our legal remedies to enforce our rights,” the spokesperson said.

At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion in 2019, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.

Curtsy, a clothing resale app aimed at Gen Z women, raises $11 million Series A

Curtsy, a clothing resale app and competitor to recently IPO’d Poshmark, announced today it has raised $11 million in Series A funding for its startup focused on the Gen Z market. The app, which evolved out of an earlier effort for renting dresses, now allows women to list their clothes, shoes and accessories for resale, while also reducing many of the frictions involved with the typical resale process.

The new round was led by Index Ventures, and included participation from Y Combinator, prior investors FJ Labs and 1984 Ventures, and angel investor Josh Breinlinger (who left Jackson Square Ventures to start his own fund).

To date, Curtsy has raised $14.5 million, including over two prior rounds which also included investors CRV, SV Angel, Kevin Durant, Priscilla Scala, and other angels.

Like other online clothing resale businesses, Curtsy aims to address the needs of a younger generation of consumers who are looking for a more sustainable alternative when shopping for clothing. Instead of constantly buying new, many Gen Z consumers will rotate their wardrobes over time, often by leveraging resale apps.

Image Credits: Curtsy

However, the current process for listing your own clothes on resale apps can be time consuming. A recent report by Wired, for example, detailed how many women were spinning their wheels engaging with Poshmark in the hopes of making money from their closets, to little avail. The Poshmark sellers complained they had to do more than just list, sell, package and ship their items — they also had participate in the community in order to have their items discovered.

Curtsy has an entirely different take. It wants to make it easier and faster for casual sellers to list items by reducing the amount of work involved to sell. It also doesn’t matter how many followers a seller has, which makes its marketplace more welcoming to first-time sellers.

“The big gap in the market is really for casual sellers — people who are not interested in selling professionally,” explains Curtsy CEO David Oates. “In pretty much every other app that you’ve heard about, pro sellers really crowd out everyday women. Part of that is the friction of the whole process,” he says.

On Curtsy, the listing process is far more streamlined.

The app uses a combination of machine learning and human review to help the sellers merchandise their items, which increase their chances of selling. When sellers first list their item in the app, Curtsy will recommend a price then fill in details like the brand, category, subcategory, shipping weight and the suggested selling price, using machine learning systems training on the previous items sold on its marketplace. Human review fixes any errors in that process.

Also before items are posted, Curtsy improves and crops the images, as well as fixes any other issues with the listing, and moderates listings for spam. This process helps to standardize the listings on the app across all sellers, giving everyone a fair shot at having their items discovered and purchased.

Another unique feature is how Curtsy caters to the Gen Z to young Millennial user base (ages 15-30), who are often without shipping supplies or even a printer for producing a shipping label.

Image Credit: Curtsy / Photo credit: Brooke Ray

First-time sellers receive a free starter kit with Curtsy-branded supplies for packaging their items at home, like poly mailers in multiple sizes. As they need more supplies, the cost of those is built into the selling flow, so you don’t have to explicitly pay for it — it’s just deducted from your earnings. Curtsy also helps sellers to schedule a free USPS pickup to save a trip to the post office, and it will even send sellers a shipping label, if need be.

“One of the things we realized quickly is Gen Z does not really have printers. So we actually have a label service and we’ll send you the label in the mail for free from centers across the country,” says Oates.

Later, when a buyer of an item purchased from Curtsy is ready to resell it, they can do so with one tap — they don’t have to photograph it and describe it again. This also speeds up the selling process.

Overall, the use of technology, outsourced teams who improve listings, and extra features like supplies and labels can be expensive. But Curtsy believes the end result is that they can bring more casual sellers to the resale market.

“Whatever costs we have, they should be in service of increased liquidity, so we can grow faster and add more people,” Oates says. “In case of the label service, those are people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in selling online. There’s no other app that would allow them to sell without a printer.”

Image Credits: Curtsy

This system, so far, appears to be working. Curtsy now has several hundred thousand people who buy and sell on its iOS-only app, with an average transaction rates of 3 items bought or sold per month. When the new round closed late in 2020, the company was reporting a $25 million GMV revenue run rate, and average monthly growth of around 30%. Today, Curtsy generates revenue by taking a 20% commission on sales (or $3 for items under $15.)

The team, until recently, was only five people — including co-founders David Oates, William Ault, Clara Agnes Ault, and Eli Allen, plus a contract workforce. With the Series A, Curtsy will be expanding, specifically by investing in new roles within product and marketing to help it scale. It will also be focused on developing an Android version of its app in the first quarter of 2021 and further building out its web presence.

“Never before have we seen such a strong overlap between buyers and sellers on a consumer-to-consumer marketplace,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, about the firm’s investment. “We believe the incredible love for Curtsy is indicative of a large marketplace in the making,” he added.

Alibaba shares jump on Jack Ma’s first appearance in 3 months

Alibaba’s billionaire founder resurfaced as he spoke to 100 rural teachers through a video call, three months after his last public appearance in October, sending the e-commerce firm’s shares up more than 8% in Hong Kong.

A recording of the call was first posted on a news portal backed by the government of Zhejiang, the eastern province where Alibaba is headquartered, and the video was verified by an Alibaba spokesperson.

Speculations swirled around Ma’s whereabouts after media reported in December that he skipped the taping of a TV program he created. Ma, known for his love for the limelight, has seen his e-commerce empire Alibaba and fintech giant Ant Group increasingly in the crosshairs of the Chinese authorities in recent months.

Ma last appeared publicly at a conference where he castigated China’s financial regulatory system in front of a room of high-ranked officials. His controversial remark, according to reports, prompted the Chinese regulator to abruptly halt Ant’s initial public offering, which would have been the biggest public share sale of all time.

Ant has since been working on corporate restructuring and regulatory compliance under the directions of the government. Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce platform, also came under scrutiny as market regulators opened an investigation into its alleged monopolistic practices.

Some argue that the recent clampdown on Jack Ma’s internet empire signals Beijing’s growing unease with the country’s super-rich and private-sector power brokers.

“Today, Alibaba and its archrival, Tencent, control more personal data and are more intimately involved in everyday life in China than Google, Facebook and other American tech titans are in the United States. And just like their American counterparts, the Chinese giants sometimes bully smaller competitors and kill innovation,” wrote Li Yuan for the New York Times.

“You don’t have to be a member of the Communist Party to see reasons to rein them in.”

In the 50-second clip, Ma is seen talking directly into the camera against what appears to be decorative paintings depicting a water town typical of Zhejiang. An art history book is shown amid a stack of books, alongside a vase of fresh flowers and a ceramic figurine of a stout, reclining man who looks relaxed and content.

Ma addressed the 100 teachers receiving the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award, which was set up by the Jack Ma Foundation to identify outstanding rural teachers every year. The video also briefly shows Ma visiting a rural boarding school in Zhejiang on January 10. The award ceremony was moved online this year due to the pandemic, Ma told the award recipients.

When Ma announced his retirement plan, he pledged to return to his teaching roots and devote more time to education philanthropy, though the founder still holds considerable sway over Alibaba by keeping a seat in the powerful Alibaba Partnership. The legendary billionaire began his career as an English teacher in Hangzhou, and on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, he nicknames himself the “ambassador for rural teachers.”

PPRO nabs $180M at a $1B+ valuation to bring together the fragmented world of payments

The pandemic has hastened a shift of most commerce becoming e-commerce in the last year, and that has brought a new focus on startups that are helping to enable that process.

In the latest development, PPRO, a London-based startup that has built a platform to make it easier for marketplaces, payment providers and other e-commerce players to enable localised payments — that is, make and take payments in whatever form local customers prefer to use, which extend well beyond basic payment cards — has closed a round of $180 million, funding that catapults PPRO’s valuation to over $1 billion.

PPRO (pronounced “P-pro”, as in payments professionals) plans to use the funding to continue expanding in newer markets.

Simon Black, PPRO’s CEO, said in an interview that two particular areas of focus in the coming year will be more activity in Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia, as well as Latin America, where the company acquired a local player, allpago, back in 2019.

In both cases, the opportunity comes in the form of high growth stemming from more transactions moving online, as well as the chaos that is the fragmented payments market.

The capital is coming from a group of investors that includes Eurazeo Growth, Sprints Capital, and Wellington Management. It comes on the heels of a $50 million round the company raised last August from Sprints, along with Citi and HPE Growth; and a further $50 million it picked up in 2018 led by strategic investor PayPal.

PayPal, alongside Citi, Mastercard Payment Gateway Services, Mollie, and Worldpay are among PPRO’s 100 large global customers, which use the company’s APIs for a variety of functions, including localised gateway, processing and merchant acquirer services.

The flood of activity coming from consumers and businesses buying more online — a by-product of the pandemic leading to many businesses shutting down physical operations for the moment — has seen the company double transaction volumes between Q4 2020 and the same quarter in 2019.

PPRO is not the only company to be targeting that opportunity.

The fragmentation of financial services overall — where realistically, there is only handful of types of transactions that might be made (usually: deposits, payments, credit), but quite literally thousands of permutations and methods to make them, with specific markets and their populations typically coalescing around their own localised selections.

That has led to the rise of a number of companies providing what has come to be called “banking as a service” or “fintech as a service,” where a tech provider stitches together in the background a number of services, sometimes thousands, and makes it easier for their customers, by way of an API, to plug those services in for their own customers to use more easily, most often connected to a range of other services provided to them like money management.

Others in this wider space that includes payments and other fintech services include the likes of Rapyd, Mambu, Thought Machine, Temenos, Edera, Adyen, Stripe and newer players like Unit, with many of these raising large amounts of money in recent times in particular to double down on what is currently a rapidly expanding market.

The unique aspect of PPRO is that it was an early mover in the area of identifying the conundrum of fragmentation in payments for companies that operate in more than one country or region, and that it has continued to play only in payments, without a jump to adjacent services.

“We’re ultra focused because the local payments problem is actually growing,” said Black, who believes that “the disconnect between what a consumer wants to use, but also their appetite and the proliferation of payment options” all contribute to more complexity (with the trade-off being more choices for consumers, but equally possibly too much choice?).

As Black sees it, the company’s focus on payments has given it more momentum to build better tech specifically to address that globally.

“PPRO is building solutions for performance in industrial strength. It’s growing rapidly because there are no other players that are truly global. We are globalizing to support the needs of customers who want to nationalize, so we have an opportunity to focus on payments, to be a strategic outsource partner.”

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for product expansion: alongside payments, Black highlighted product compliance and providing better analytics as two areas where the company is already active and will be doing more for customers.

“Where we partner and provide value is in anticipating changes in consumer demand,” he noted. “We monitor how customers are using those methods and — whether you are are service provider or furniture or travel company — determine which are the best relevant payment methods.” Services like open banking, tools for banks to enable allowing payments directly from customers’ accounts, or buy-now-pay-later payments, are examples, he said, of areas that speak of further opportunities.

“We are delighted to support Simon and the team at PPRO as they continue to develop best-in-class local payment solutions,” commented Nathalie Kornhoff-Brüls, Managing Director at Eurazeo Growth, in a statement. “All signs for the future indicate that digital commerce, and even more so cross-border commerce, will continue to grow exponentially while innovation in payment methods remains strong. As a result, facilitating local payments is becoming increasingly complex. Payment service providers, however, no longer have a choice as merchants and their customers are pushing for the adoption.”

“PPRO has proven to be the go-to problem solver in this area, providing the local payments technology and expertise that the world’s biggest payment players rely on. Our investment reflects our confidence in the growth potential for PPRO and we’re excited to support PPRO and its team on their journey,” added Voria Fattahi, a partner at Sprints Capital, in a separate statement.

It may not be as glamorous as D2C, but beauty tech is big money

Last week, Procter & Gamble (P&G) announced that it was terminating plans to acquire razor startup Billie following a U.S. Federal Trade Commission lawsuit to stop the deal.

Last year, Edgewell Personal Care ditched its debt-heavy $1.37 billion deal for Harry’s, Inc, formerly valued at $1 billion after the FTC sought to block the acquisition.

In addition to these FTC challenges, it is also now becoming clear that relying on VC-subsidized products and celebrating outrageous valuations can be problematic for D2C brands. With a few wonderful and rare exceptions such as Rothy’s (which raised $42 million but was profitable from the beginning and generated $140 million in revenue within two years of launching), D2C unicorns are addicted to the cycle of venture funding to feed growth in order to maintain a high valuation multiple.

The path to profitability has become a more important part of the startup story versus growth at all costs.

This works for a while; however, when the path to profitability appears murky and exit options either don’t appear or only appear from nontech companies with very conservative multiples, the walls start crumbling.

In a WWD article, Odile Roujol, the former CEO of Lancôme who launched venture fund FAB Ventures, said, “Generally speaking, the era of $1 billion valuations for beauty companies is over. The people that struggle have been the companies that spend so much money in just a few years.” She went on to say, “The big corporations now … are not ready to spend $1.2 billion, $1.5 billion on such a brand like Glossier.”

This change in sentiment from acquirers is further fueled by recent research on the challenges of turning hypergrowth companies profitable. In his Harvard Business School case study “Direct to Consumer Brands,” Professor Sunil Gupta wrote, “Acquiring DTC brands is easy for incumbent conglomerates, but making them profitable is challenging. More than three years after Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club, it was still unprofitable.”

Unilever executives learned that the average cost of acquiring a new customer online was about the same as in stores. David Taylor, CEO of P&G, said his company was still figuring out how to turn recently acquired direct-to-consumer brands into profitable businesses.

Taylor summarized this dilemma, saying, “There are many, many launches that grow fast … a business model that makes money is a higher challenge.” Since making these realizations, incumbent conglomerates will be more cautious when considering the acquisition of hyped D2C brands that raised lots of venture capital.

Beauty tech is a better bet: Meitu and Perfect Corp.

What’s cooler than beauty companies that are (or were) valued at $1 billion? Beauty tech SaaS companies that are worth $5.2 billion at IPO. We don’t hear much about the leading global beauty tech companies such as Meitu and Perfect Corp. because their founders are not celebrity influencers, they don’t have massive Instagram followings here in the U.S. and they are not celebrated in our media. Although their companies are based in Asia and they raised money mostly from Chinese investors, their companies are global successes.

Flipkart doubles down on rewards program, partners with 5,000 retail outlets in India

Flipkart on Monday launched SuperCoin Pay that its customers will be able to use across thousands of retail stores across the country as Walmart-owned e-commerce giant bets on its loyalty program to win and sustain its user base in the world’s second largest internet market.

The Bangalore-headquartered e-commerce giant said it had partnered with over 5,000 retail outlets including TimesPoints, Peter England, Cafe Coffee Day and Flying Machine across India to give its customers a “greater value and choice” to cash in on their Flipkart loyalty program, called SuperCoin Rewards. Flipkart customers earn these SuperCoins when they make purchases on the e-commerce platform.

Customers will be able to pay up to 100% of the bill value through SuperCoins, Flipkart said, pointing out that traditional loyalty programs have struggled to gain traction because they locked customers to their platform and made it difficult to convert reward points to cash.

Its retail partners operate in a wide-range of categories including fashion, grocery, food and beverages, travel, health and wellness. These retail partners will offer a QR code to make it easier for Flipkart customers to redeem their rewards points.

The move comes as giant e-commerce firms in India aggressively partner with physical and digital stores across the country. Amazon, too, has broadened its offering in recent years to offer coupons and discounts that Amazon Pay customers can redeem when making purchases at Urban Company, Domino’s, BigBazaar, More, Oyo Rooms, Licious, BookMyShow, Swiggy, and RedBus, for instance.

“The lines between online and offline shopping are becoming increasingly blurred, and our intention is to make the consumers’ shopping experience more rewarding, no matter where they shop,” said Prakash Sikaria, Vice President of Growth and Monetization at Flipkart, in a statement.

“Being a part of the SuperCoin programme enables our partners to reap the benefits of Flipkart’s 300 million customer base through a truly integrated rewards initiative,” he added.

Flipkart said customers on its platform have earned over a billion SuperCoin to date.

Checkout wants to be Rapyd and Fast

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. We’re back on this lovely Saturday with a bonus episode!

Again!

There is enough going on that to avoid failing to bring you stuff that we think matters, we are back yet again for more. This time around we are not talking Roblox, we’re talking about ecommerce, and a number of rounds — big and small — that have been raised in the space. Honest question: do y’all plan to release news on the same week? Are trends a social construct?

From Natasha, Grace, Danny, and your humble servant, here’s your run-down:

  • Webflow raised $140 million in a round that it says it did not need. This is not a new thing. Some startups are doing well, and don’t burn much. So investors offer them more at a nice price. In this case $2.1 billion. (Webflow does no-code
  • Checkout.com raised $450 million. The rich really do get richer. In this case the founders of Checkout.com, whose company is now worth around $15 billion Checkout.com does, you guessed, online checkout work. Which as Danny explains is complicated and critical.
  • We also talked about this Bolt round, for context.
  • And sticking to the ecommerce theme, Rapyd raised $300 million at around a $2.5 billion valuation. There is infinte money available for late-stage fintech.
  • Early stage as well, it turns out, with Tradeswell raising $15.5 million to help businesses improve their net margins.
  • Finally, ending with a chat on infrastructure, Nacelle closed an $18 million Series A. 

And now we’re going back to bed.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Extra Crunch roundup: antitrust jitters, SPAC odyssey, white-hot IPOs, more

Some time ago, I gave up on the idea of finding a thread that connects each story in the weekly Extra Crunch roundup; there are no unified theories of technology news.

The stories that left the deepest impression were related to two news pegs that dominated the week — Visa and Plaid calling off their $5.3 billion acquisition agreement, and sizzling-hot IPOs for Affirm and Poshmark.

Watching Plaid and Visa sing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in harmony after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block their deal wasn’t shocking. But I was surprised to find myself editing an interview Alex Wilhelm conducted with with Plaid CEO Zach Perret the next day in which the executive said growing the company on its own is “once again” the correct strategy.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


In an analysis for Extra Crunch, Managing Editor Danny Crichton suggested that federal regulators’ new interest in antitrust enforcement will affect valuations going forward. For example, Procter & Gamble and women’s beauty D2C brand Billie also called off their planned merger last week after the Federal Trade Commission raised objections in December.

Given the FTC’s moves last year to prevent Billie and Harry’s from being acquired, “it seems clear that U.S. antitrust authorities want broad competition for consumers in household goods,” Danny concluded, and I suspect that applies to Plaid as well.

In December, C3.ai, Doordash and Airbnb burst into the public markets to much acclaim. This week, used clothing marketplace Poshmark saw a 140% pop in its first day of trading and consumer-financing company Affirm “priced its IPO above its raised range at $49 per share,” reported Alex.

In a post titled A theory about the current IPO market, he identified eight key ingredients for brewing a debut with a big first-day pop, which includes “exist in a climate of near-zero interest rates” and “keep companies private longer.” Truly, words to live by!

Come back next week for more coverage of the public markets in The Exchange, an interview with Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg where he shares his plans for taking the company public, a comprehensive post that will unpack the regulatory hurdles facing D2C consumer brands, and much more.

If you live in the U.S., enjoy your MLK Day holiday weekend, and wherever you are: thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

After spending much of the week covering 2021’s frothy IPO market, Alex Wilhelm devoted this morning’s column to studying the OKR-focused software sector.

Measuring objectives and key results are core to every enterprise, perhaps more so these days since knowledge workers began working remotely in greater numbers last year.

A sign of the times: this week, enterprise orchestration SaaS platform Gtmhub announced that it raised a $30 million Series B.

To get a sense of how large the TAM is for OKR, Alex reached out to several companies and asked them to share new and historical growth metrics:

  • Gthmhub
  • Perdoo
  • WorkBoard
  • Ally.io
  • Koan
  • WeekDone

“Some OKR-focused startups didn’t get back to us, and some leaders wanted to share the best stuff off the record, which we grant at times for candor amongst startup executives,” he wrote.

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

For our latest investor survey, Matt Burns interviewed five VCs who actively fund consumer electronics startups:

  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
  • Dayna Grayson, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner, SOSV
  • Bilal Zuberi, partner, Lux Capital
  • Rob Coneybeer, managing director, Shasta Ventures

“Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder,” says Matt, noting that the pandemic fueled wide interest in fitness startups like Mirror, Peloton and Tonal.

Bonus: many VCs listed the founders, investors and companies that are taking the lead in consumer hardware innovation.

A theory about the current IPO market

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

If you’re looking for insight into “why everything feels so damn silly this year” in the public markets, a post Alex wrote Thursday afternoon might offer some perspective.

As someone who pays close attention to late-stage venture markets, he’s identified eight factors that are pushing debuts for unicorns like Affirm and Poshmark into the stratosphere.

TL;DR? “Lots of demand, little supply, boom goes the price.”

Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups

Clothing resale marketplace Poshmark closed up more than 140% on its first trading day yesterday.

In Thursday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex noted that Poshmark boosted its valuation by selling 6.6 million shares at its IPO price, scooping up $277.2 million in the process.

Poshmark’s surge in trading is good news for its employees and stockholders, but it reflects poorly on “the venture-focused money people who we suppose know what they are talking about when it comes to equity in private companies,” he says.

Will startup valuations change given rising antitrust concerns?

GettyImages 926051128

financial stock market graph on technology abstract background represent risk of investment

This week, Visa announced it would drop its planned acquisition of Plaid after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to block it last fall.

Last week, Procter & Gamble called off its purchase of Billie, a women’s beauty products startup — in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block that deal, too.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government took an arm’s-length approach to enforcing antitrust laws, but the tide has turned, says Managing Editor Danny Crichton.

Going forward, “antitrust won’t kill acquisitions in general, but it could prevent the buyers with the highest reserve prices from entering the fray.”

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I’m a grad student currently working on F-1 STEM OPT. The company I work for has indicated it will sponsor me for an H-1B visa this year.

I hear the random H-1B lottery will be replaced with a new system that selects H-1B candidates based on their salaries.

How will this new process work?

— Positive in Palo Alto

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

A homemade chocolate cookie with a bite and crumbs on a white background

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After news broke that Visa’s $5.3 billion purchase of API startup Plaid fell apart, Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller interviewed several investors to get their reactions:

  • Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO, SkyflowAPI
  • Amy Cheetham, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Sheel Mohnot, co-founder, Better Tomorrow Ventures
  • Lucas Timberlake, partner, Fintech Ventures
  • Nico Berardi, founder and general partner, ANIMO Ventures
  • Allen Miller, VC, Oak HC/FT
  • Sri Muppidi, VC, Sierra Ventures
  • Christian Lassonde, VC, Impression Ventures

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm interviewed Plaid CEO Zach Perret after the Visa acquisition was called off to learn more about his mindset and the company’s short-term plans.

Perret, who noted that the last few years have been a “roller coaster,” said the Visa deal was the right decision at the time, but going it alone is “once again” Plaid’s best way forward.

2021: A SPAC odyssey

In Tuesday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm took a closer look at blank-check offerings for digital asset marketplace Bakkt and personal finance platform SoFi.

To create a detailed analysis of the investor presentations for both offerings, he tried to answer two questions:

  1. Are special purpose acquisition companies a path to public markets for “potentially-promising companies that lacked obvious, near-term growth stories?”
  2. Given the number of unicorns and the limited number of companies that can IPO at any given time, “maybe SPACS would help close the liquidity gap?”

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Growth-stage startups in search of funding have a new option: “flexible VC” investors.

An amalgam of revenue-based investment and traditional VC, investors who fall into this category let entrepreneurs “access immediate risk capital while preserving exit, growth trajectory and ownership optionality.”

In a comprehensive explainer, fund managers David Teten and Jamie Finney present different investment structures so founders can get a clear sense of how flexible VC compares to other venture capital models. In a follow-up post, they share a list of a dozen active investors who offer funding via these non-traditional routes.

These 5 VCs have high hopes for cannabis in 2021

Marijuana leaf on a yellow background.

Image Credits: Anton Petrus (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For some consumers, “cannabis has always been essential,” writes Matt Burns, but once local governments allowed dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic, it signaled a shift in the regulatory environment, and investors took notice.

Matt asked five VCs about where they think the industry is heading in 2021 and what advice they’re offering their portfolio companies: