EC roundup: BNPL startups, growth marketing tips, solid state battery market map, more

When I needed a new sofa several months ago, I was pleased to find a buy now, pay later (BNPL) option during the checkout process. I had prepared myself to make a major financial outlay, but the service fees were well worth the convenience of deferring the entire payment.

Coincidentally, I was siting on said sofa this morning and considering that transaction when Alex Wilhelm submitted a column that compared recent earnings for three BNPL providers: Afterpay, Affirm and Klarna.

I asked him why he decided to dig into the sector with such gusto.


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“What struck me about the concept was that we had just seen earnings from Affirm,” he said. “So we had three BNPL players with known earnings, and I had just covered a startup funding round in the space.”

“Toss in some obvious audience interest, and it was an easy choice to write the piece. Now the question is whether I did a good job and people find value in it.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck

Smashing brick work with hammer

Image Credits: Colin Hawkins (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

I avoid running Extra Crunch stories that focus on best practices; you can find those anywhere. Instead, we look for “here’s what worked for me” articles that give readers actionable insights.

That’s a much better use of your time and ours.

With that ethos in mind, Lucas Matney interviewed Pilot CEO Waseem Daher to deconstruct the pitch deck that helped his company land a $60M Series C round.

“If the Series A was about, ‘Do you have the right ingredients to make this work?’ then the Series B is about, ‘Is this actually working?'” Daher tells TechCrunch.

“And then the Series C is more, ‘Well, show me that the core business is really working and that you have unlocked real drivers to allow the business to continue growing.'”

Can solid state batteries power up for the next generation of EVs?

market-maps-battery-alt

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

A global survey of automobile owners found three hurdles to overcome before consumers will widely embrace electric vehicles:

  • 30-minute charging time
  • 300-mile range
  • $36,000 maximum cost

“Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three,” but for now, lithium-ion batteries are the go-to for most EVs (along with laptops and phones).

In our latest market map, we’ve plotted the new and established players in the SSB sector and listed many of the investors who are backing them.

Although SSBs are years away from mass production, “we are on the cusp of some pretty incredible discoveries using major improvements in computational science and machine learning algorithms to accelerate that process,” says SSB startup founder Amy Prieto.

 

Dear Sophie: Which immigration options are the fastest?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

Help! Our startup needs to hire 50 engineers in artificial intelligence and related fields ASAP. Which visa and green card options are the quickest to get for top immigrant engineers?

And will Biden’s new immigration bill help us?

— Mesmerized in Menlo Park

 

Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

Dark servers data center room with computers and storage systems

Image Credits: Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

Founded in 1996, F5 has repositioned itself in the networking market several times in its history. In the last two years, however, it spent $2.2 billion to acquire Shape Security, Volterra and NGINX.

“As large organizations age, they often need to pivot to stay relevant, and I wanted to explore one of these transformational shifts,” said enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

“I spoke to the CEO of F5 to find out the strategy behind his company’s pivot and how he leveraged three acquisitions to push his organization in a new direction.”

 

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market

Cloud online storage technology concept. Big data data information exchange available. Magnifying glass with analytics data

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

Cloud hosting company DigitalOcean filed to go public this week, so Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm unpacked its financials.

“AWS and Microsoft Azure will not be losing too much sleep worrying about DigitalOcean, but it is not trying to compete head-on with them across the full spectrum of cloud infrastructure services,” said John Dinsdale, chief analyst and research director at Synergy Research.

 

Oscar Health’s initial IPO price is so high, it makes me want to swear

I asked Alex Wilhelm to dial back the profanity he used to describe Oscar Health’s proposed valuation, but perhaps I was too conservative.

In March 2018, the insurtech unicorn was valued at around $3.2 billion. Today, with the company aiming to debut at $32 to $34 per share, its fully diluted valuation is closer to $7.7 billion.

“The clear takeaway from the first Oscar Health IPO pricing interval is that public investors have lost their minds,” says Alex.

His advice for companies considering an IPO? “Go public now.”

 

If Coinbase is worth $100 billion, what’s a fair valuation for Stripe?

Last week, Alex wrote about how cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase was being valued at $77 billion in the private markets.

As of Monday, “it’s now $100 billion, per Axios’ reporting.”

He reviewed Coinbase’s performance from 2019 through the end of Q3 2020 “to decide whether Coinbase at $100 billion makes no sense, a little sense or perfect sense.”

 

Winning enterprise sales teams know how to persuade the Chief Objection Officer

woman hand stop sign on brick wall background

Image Credits: Alla Aramyan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

A skilled software sales team devotes a lot of resources to pinpointing potential customers.

Poring through LinkedIn and reviewing past speaker lists at industry conferences are good places to find decision-makers, for example.

Despite this detective work, GGV Capital investor Oren Yunger says sales teams still need to identify the deal-blockers who can spike a deal with a single email.

“I call this person the Chief Objection Officer.

 

3 strategies for elevating brand authority in 2021

Young woman standing on top of tall green bar graph against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Every startup wants to raise its profile, but for many early-stage companies, marketing budgets are too small to make a meaningful difference.

Providing real value through content is an excellent way to build authority in the short and long term,” says Amanda Milligan, marketing director at growth agency Fractl.

 

RIBS: The messaging framework for every company and product

Grilled pork ribs with barbecue sauce on wooden background

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

The most effective marketing uses good storytelling, not persuasion.

According to Caryn Marooney, general partner at Coatue Management, every compelling story is relevant, inevitable, believable and simple.

“Behind most successful companies is a story that checks every one of those boxes,” says Marooney, but “this is a central challenge for every startup.”

 

Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig: The objective of pricing is to become less wrong over time

On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Ironclad founder and CEO Jason Boehmig and Accel partner Steve Loughlin discussed the pitch that brought them together almost four years ago.

Since that $8 million Series A, Loughlin joined Ironclad’s board. “Both agree that the work they put in up front had paid off” when it comes to how well they work together, says Jordan Crook.

“We’ve always been up front about the fact that we consider the board a part of the company,” said Boehmig.


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At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

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As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings

As the e-commerce market grows, startups are racing to help online retailers sell larger items to consumers with so-called “buy-now-pay-later” options. Via BNPL, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

Terms vary, but the space is very active. TechCrunch covered Scalapay’s January $48 million round, what the Italian BNPL described as a seed round. Also this year, we’ve seen France’s Alma raise a $59.4 million Series B for its BNPL efforts. And I recently covered Wisetack’s aggregate $19 million fundraise as it looks to make more noise about its service that focuses on real-world transactions like home improvement.

But unlike some burgeoning startup niches where we lack visible results from leading players to use as a lens for vetting the market, we do have a number for the BNPL space. This morning, to better understand what’s going on with the younger companies hoping to help you finance your next mistaken purchase, let’s check out earnings results from Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm.


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Klarna, based in Sweden, is said to be considering a direct listing. Its 2020 results are here. Afterpay, based in Australia, went public a few years ago. Its H1 fiscal 2021 results are here. And then there’s Affirm, the recently public U.S.-based BNPL company that had a recent direct listing. Its fiscal Q2 2021 (calendar Q4) results are here.

Let’s see how the three are doing, yank learnings for the mix and then check our gut about what their results might mean for BNPL startups the world ’round.

BNPL results

The BNPL cohort of startups is showing signs of pursuing verticalization to find veins of market demand that remain untapped by the largest players in their market. So, while Affirm wants to check you out everywhere online, providing you with repayment options wherever you travel digitally, Wisetack wants to integrate with a particular set of merchants. The latter model could provide startups pursuing similar, narrower market targets the ability to better understand their economics and perhaps generate more total margin on their loans.

That’s a long way to say that even with the information at our disposal, we’re thinking directionally. But doing so is both good fun and illustrative, so let’s get into it. First, Klarna.

Klarna

This morning we’ll look at Klarna’s Q3 2020 report and its Q4 report from the same year.

The gist is that Klarna had a super-solid 2020. In its Q3 update, Klarna wrote that it saw 43 percent growth in gross merchandise volume during the first nine months of the year. In its Q4 report, it noted a full-year number of 46 percent GMV growth. From that, we can intuit that Klarna had a great fourth quarter.

Turning to the U.S. market, Klarna first reported “10 million total consumers by [the Q3] period end, and 11 million by the end of October.” And for the full year, it wrote that it had seen “15 million consumers choosing to shop with Klarna by January 2021” in the United States. Again, those look pretty great.

First Boulevard raises $5M for its digital bank aimed at Black America

The murder of George Floyd last May ignited many things in the United States last year — one of which that was perhaps unexpected: a rise in the number of digital banks targeting the Black community.

Some members of the Black community took their belief that big banks are not meeting their needs and turned them into startup concepts.

One of those startups, First Boulevard (formerly called Tenth), has just raised $5 million in seed funding from Barclays, Anthemis and a group of angel investors such as actress Gabrielle Union, Union Square Ventures John Buttrick and AutoZone CFO Jamere Jackson.

For co-founder and CEO Donald Hawkins, the genesis for the Overland, Kansas-bank came after Floyd’s murder, when he and friend Asya Bradley were talking about what they felt Black America “really needed to get out of a vicious cycle” of dealing with the same issues with no real solutions in sight.

CEO Donald Hawkins

COO Asya Bradley

“After viewing yet another tragedy engulf the Black community, and the all-too-familiar protests against persisting issues,” Hawkins said. “it was beyond clear to me that the solutions Black America needs must be financially-focused and developed within our community.”

The pair both had fintech experience. Hawkins had founded Griffin Technologies, a company focused on providing real-time, contextual intelligence to community banks and credit unions. And Bradley most recently was a founding team member and head of revenue at Synapse, a platform that built banking-as-a-service APIs to help bank the unbanked of America by connecting fintech platforms to banking institutions.

They discovered that there were only about 19 Black banks in the U.S., collectively holding about $5 billion in assets.

“And their technology was really behind the times,” Hawkins said. “We also took a hard look at some of the existing digital banks to really see who was really going about it  in the same way that we felt like America needed, and it was pretty clear at that point, that no one was really attacking the issue of helping Black America build some level of financial stability through the form of wealth-building play.”

The pair formed First Boulevard last August under the premise that Black Americans are “massively underserved consumers” of financial products and services despite having a collective spending power of $1.4 trillion annually. The startup’s mission is to empower Black Americans “ to take control of their finances, build wealth and reinvest in the Black economy” via a digitally-native platform. First Boulevard has 100,000 people on its waitlist currently.

Part of its goal with the new capital involves building out a Black business marketplace, which will give its members Cash Back for Buying Black™. It also plans to use the money to expand its team, increase its customer base and grow its platform to offer fee-free debit cards, financial education and on developing technology to help members automate their saving and wealth building goals.

History has proven that oppressed communities can succeed when their finances are centralized, and when it comes to financial services for the Black community, a centralizing force is long overdue,” Hawkins said.

The bank’s Cash Back for Buying Black™ program helps members earn up to 15% cashback when they spend money at black-owned businesses. 

“I believe the most recent stat but that also was that 41% of black owned businesses have closed since COVID-19 started,” Hawkins said. “We want to support them as much as we can.”

First Boulevard also is focused on passively building wealth for its communities.

“Black America as a whole has been blocked from learning how money works. We want to connect our members to wealth-building assets such as micro investments like money market accounts, high yield savings and cryptocurrency — things that Black America has largely been blocked from,” Hawkins said.

Bradley, who serves as First Boulevard’s COO, believes the current financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people. Its goal is to take their understanding of the unique needs of the Black community to provide things such as early access to wages, round up savings features, targeted financial education and budgeting tools.

The pair aims to have a “fully inclusive” team that represents the community it’s trying to serve. Currently, its 20-person staff is 60% black, and 85% BIPOC. Two-thirds of its leadership team are women and 100% is BIPOC. The company plans to boost its headcount to 50 by year’s end.

“We are very proud of that considering that in the fintech space, those are not normal numbers from a leadership perspective,” Bradley said.

For Katie Palencsar, an investor at the Female Innovators Lab by Barclays and Anthemis, said that her firm has always recognized “that access to financial services has long remained a challenge despite the digital evolution.”

“This is especially true for Black Americans who often reside in financial deserts and struggle to find platforms that truly look to serve them,” she said. “First Boulevard deeply understands the challenge.”

Palencsar believes that First Boulevard’s mission of helping Black Americans not just bank, but actually build wealth, is unique in the market.

First Boulevard sees the wealth gap that continues to grow within the U.S. and wants to build a digital banking platform that addresses the systemic and structural challenges that face this population while enabling Black Americans and allies to invest in the community,” she said.

The company also recently announced a partnership with Visa, under which First Boulevard will be first to pilot Visa’s new suite of crypto APIs. First Boulevard will also launch a First Boulevard Visa Debit card.

First Boulevard is one of several digital banks geared toward Black Americans that have emerged in recent months. Paybby, a digital bank for the black and brown communities, recently acquired Wicket, a neobank that uses AI and biometric technology to create a personalized experience for users. Hassan Miah, the CEO and founder of Paybby, said the bank’s goal is to be “the leading smart, digital bank for the Black and Brown communities.”

Paybby, which started by offering a bank account and a way to expedite PPP loans, will soon be adding a cryptocurrency savings account for the Black and Brown communities.   

“Black buying power is projected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2024,” Miah said. “Brown buying power is over $2 trillion. Paybby wants to take a good portion of this multi-trillion dollar market and give it back to these communities.”

Last October, Greenwood raised $3 million in seed funding from private investors to build what it describes as “the first digital banking platform for Black and Latinx people and business owners.”

At the time, co-founder Ryan Glover, founder of Bounce TV network, said it was “no secret that traditional banks have failed the Black and Latinx community.”

Docyt raises $1.5M for its ML-based accounting automation platform

Accounting isn’t a topic that most people can get excited about — probably not even most accountants. But if you’re running any kind of business, there’s just no way around it. Santa Clara-based Docyt wants to make the life of small and medium business owners (and their accounting firms) a bit easier by using machine learning to handle a lot of the routine tasks around collecting financial data, digitizing receipts, categorization and — maybe most importantly — reconciliation.

The company today announced that it has raised a $1.5 million seed-extension round led by First Rays Venture Partners with participation from Morado Ventures and a group of angel investors. Docyt (pronounced ‘docket’) had previously raised a $2.2 million seed round from Morado Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Westwave Capital, Xplorer Capital, Tuesday and angel investors. The company plans to use the new investment to accelerate its customer growth.

At first glance, it may seem like Docyt competes with the likes of QuickBooks, which is pretty much the de facto standard for small business accounting. But Docyt co-founder and CTO Sugam Pandey tells me that he thinks of the service as a partner to the likes of QuickBooks.

Image Credits: Docyt

“Docyt is a product for the small business owners who finds accounting very complex, who are very experienced on howto run and grow their business, but not really an expert in accounting. At the same time, businesses who are graduating out of QuickBooks — small business owners sometimes become mid-sized enterprises as well — […] they start growing out of their accounting systems like QuickBooks and looking for more sophisticated systems like NetSuite and Sage. And Docyt fits in in that space as well, extending the life of QuickBooks for such business owners so they don’t have to change their systems.”

In its earliest days, Docyt was a secure document sharing platform with a focus on mobile. Some of this is still in the company’s DNA, with its focus on being able to pull in financial documents and then reconciling that with a business’ bank transactions. While other systems may put the emphasis on transaction data, Docyt’s emphasis is on documents. That means you can forward an emailed receipt to the service, for example, and it can automatically attach this to a financial transaction from your credit card or bank statement (the service uses Plaid to pull in this data).

Image Credits: Docyt

For new transactions, you sometimes have to train the system by entering some of this information by hand, but over time, Docyt should be able to do most of this automatically and then sync your data with QuickBooks.

“Docyt is the first company to apply AI across the entire accounting stack,” said Amit Sridharan, Founding General Partner at First Rays Venture Partners. “Docyt software’s AI-powered data extraction, auto categorization and auto reconciliation is unparalleled. It’s an enterprise-level, powerful solution that’s affordable and accessible to small and medium businesses.”

Former top Paytm exec is building his own financial services startup

The executive who built the financial services boutique for Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, from the ground is ready to do something similar all over again.

Pravin Jadhav, the former chief executive of Paytm Money, revealed on Thursday his own startup, Raise Financial Services.

This time, Jadhav — under whose leadership, Paytm had amassed over 6 million Money customers — is focusing on serving a different set of the population.

Hundreds of millions of users in India today don’t have access to financial services. They don’t have a credit card, banks don’t lend to them, and they have never purchased an insurance cover or invested in mutual funds or stocks.

Scores of large firms and startups in India today are attempting to reach these users by building an underwriting technology that can use alternative data to determine an applicant’s credit worthiness. It’s a tough and capital intensive business, built on pillars of uncertainties, assumptions and hopes.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Jadhav said Raise Financial Services is aimed at customers living in metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities (so very much in and around urban cities). “They want financial products, they are literate about these products, but they are not being served the way they should be,” he said.

Pravin Jadhav, left, poses with Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Jadhav left Paytm last year.

He said his new startup will offer products across financial services including investing, financing, insurance, wealth, and payments. “Just not doing the banking part, as I believe that is more of an infrastructure play,” he said.

“The idea is to offer great exceptional products that are not being offered by anyone. Number 2: Focus a lot on tech-driven distribution. And third is that today the quality of customer service experience is bad across the market. So we are trying to solve that,” he said. “Over time, we will try to stitch all of this together.”

Jadhav also announced he has raised a Seed financing round. He did not disclose the amount, but revealed enough high-profile names, including: Kunal Shah (Cred), Kalyan Krishnamurthi (Flipkart), Amod Malviya and Sujeet Kumar (Udaan), Sameer Nigam and Rahul Chari (PhonePe), Amrish Rau (Pine Labs, Citrus Pay), Sandeep Tandon (Freecharge), Jitendra Gupta (Jupiter), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshworks), Nischal Shetty (WazirX), Kuldeep Dhankar (Clevertap), Sreevatsa Prabhakar (Servify), and Amit Bhor (Walnut).

Jadhav himself is also investing, and venture investor Mirae Asset Venture is leading the round, with participation from Multi-Act Private Equity, Blume Ventures (via its Founder’s Fund) and US based early-stage investor Social Leverage, for which it is the first investment in India.

Ashish Dave, CEO of Mirae Asset Venture’s India business, told TechCrunch that even though he had known Jadhav, it was listening to him at various Clubhouse sessions that prompted him to reach out to Jadhav.

Jadhav said users can expect the startup’s first product to be live by the end of the year. (TechCrunch understands it’s shipping much sooner. Raise Financial Services’ offerings will have some similarities with SoFi and Goldman Sachs’ Marcus.)

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1

The Coinbase S-1 is out! And hot damn, did the company have a good fourth quarter.

TechCrunch has a first look at the company’s headline numbers. But in case you’ve been busy, the key things to understand are that Coinbase was an impressive company in 2019 with more than a half-billion in revenue and a modest net loss. In 2020, the company grew sharply to more than $1.2 billion in revenue, providing it with lots of net income.


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The company’s Q4 2020 was about as big as its entire 2019 in revenue terms, albeit much more profitable because the sum was concentrated in a single quarter instead of spread out over four.

However, beyond the top-level numbers are a host of details to explore. I want to dig more deeply into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company. At the end, we’ll riff on a chart that discusses the correlation between crypto assets and the stock market, just for fun.

Sound good? You can read along in the S-1 here if you want, and I will provide page numbers as we go.

Inside Coinbase’s direct listing

To make things simpler, we’ll frame our digging in the form of questions, starting with: How many users did Coinbase need to generate its huge 2020 revenue gains?

The answer: not as many as I expected. In 2019, Coinbase generated $533.7 million from what it describes as 1 million “Monthly Transacting Users” (page 14). That works out to $533.7 in revenue per MTU for the year.

In 2020, Coinbase generated $1.28 billion in revenue off of 2.8 million MTUs, which works out to around $457 apiece during the year. That’s a bit lower, but not terribly so. And given that the company’s transaction margins ranged in the mid-80s percent during much of 2020, each Coinbase active trader was still quite valuable, even at a lower revenue point.

As we noted in our first look at the company’s economics, Coinbase’s metrics are highly variable. Its MTU figure is no exception. Observe the following chart from its S-1 filing (page 95):

Coinbase’s Q1 2018 was nearly as popular in MTU terms as its final quarter of 2020. And from that point in time, the company’s MTUs fell 70 percent to its Q1 2019 nadir. That’s a lot of variance.

The company itself notes in its filing that “MTUs have historically been correlated with both the price of Bitcoin and Crypto Asset Volatility,” though the company does point out that it expects such correlations to diminish over time.

The answer to our question is that it only takes a few million MTUs for Coinbase to be a huge business. But the other side of that point is that Coinbase has shown twice in two years (2018, 2019) that the number of traders on its platform can decline.

What assets do Coinbase users hold? This is a question that I am sure many of you crypto enthusiasts have. But first, what does the Coinbase user asset base look like? Like this, historically (page 96):

Holy shit, right? The chart shows two things. First, the rapid appreciation of cryptocurrencies overall, which you can spy in the upward kick of the black line. And then the blue bars show how the assets on Coinbase’s platform grew from $17 billion at the start of 2020 to $90 billion by year’s end.

USV has been aggressively selling off shares in Coinbase in run up to IPO

Coinbase’s S-1 publicly dropped this morning with much anticipation. My colleague Alex Wilhelm has the high-level details, but there was one major wrinkle for the crypto trading darling: two of its early investors seem to be cutting down their stakes pre-IPO.

The most notable case is Union Square Ventures, the prominent venture firm where Fred Wilson co-led the Series A round into the company back in 2013, which was the first investment made under the firm’s then newly christened blockchain thesis.

Over the past two years — which is the extent of disclosures that Coinbase includes in its S-1 filing — USV has been rapidly selling off its holdings in the company across multiple transactions, mostly selling to other venture firms around the cap table. Since late 2019, the firm has sold off approximately 28% of its holdings in Coinbase.

USV currently owns about 7.3% of Coinbase’s outstanding shares, or roughly 13.9 million of a total of 191.3 million based on Coinbase’s disclosed share count. As the following table indicates, USV has conducted four separately-dated transactions to sell nearly 5.5 million shares of its holdings in secondary transactions.

Fellow early-stage fintech investor Ribbit Capital, which joined USV in the Series A, also conducted a smaller secondary transaction in November 2019, selling a bit less than 5% of its outstanding shares (559,228 of 11,995,949 shares).

What’s interesting is not just that USV in particular is selling a large part of its holdings, but also the price they were willing to sell at. According to Coinbase’s filing, USV sold 3.35 million shares at $23 per share in late 2019, and later sold about 2 million shares at $28.83 per share in mid-2020.

Those prices are well-below Coinbase’s Series E price per share of $36.19, which it received in late 2019. It’s also below the price set by the secondary transactions of Coinbase CEO and co-founder Brian Armstrong and Paradigm founder and Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam, who received $32.57 for their shares in late 2018.

Now, there are a couple of nuances to consider here. The secondary sale of preferred shares will typically convert to common (even if the sale is to another preferred shareholder), which means that the shares sold would hold fewer investor rights and provisions, and therefore, are intrinsically worth less to investors. This was the case with Coinbase as it disclosed in its filing, and that may explain at least some of the gap in the price.

The timing of USV’s investment is also perhaps notable. The bulk of USV’s investment in Coinbase comes from its 2012 vintage fund, which if it follows default industry practice, has a targeted 10-year shelf life. That means that the fund is designed to pay out its returns by 2022 — which was quickly coming up for the firm back in 2019 and 2020. There may have been some pressure to sell at least some of the firm’s stake early to make the firm’s LPs happier.

It’s also useful to note that USV and Ribbit mostly sold to other, existing investors like A16Z and Paradigm, which shows that other investors deeply burrowed on the cap table were quite excited to put more money to work in Coinbase, even at a fairly late stage.

Nonetheless, it’s rare for an ambitious fund like USV to sell arguably its single most important investment of all time just a year or two before what may well be one of the largest blockbuster IPOs of 2021. At a valuation of $100 billion let’s say (which is what Coinbase priced at a recent private market transaction), USV’s stake would be worth about $7.3 billion. Yet, the shares it sold over the past two years would have been worth several billion at exit, and it sold them for about $140 million in cash.

The mystery here is perhaps solved a bit. Fred Wilson, in a blog post from early 2018, talked about “taking money off the table” in earlier USV investments like Twitter, where the firm “sold about 30% of our position in those two secondary transactions for about $250mm and returned 2x the entire fund to our investors.” Then referring to crypto, he said:

If you are sitting on 20x, 50x, 100x your money on a crypto investment, it would not be a mistake to sell 10%, 20% or even 30% of your position. Selling 25% of your position on an investment that is up 50x is booking a 12.5x on the entire investment, while allowing you to keep 75% of it going. I know that many crypto holders think that selling anything is a mistake. And it might be. Or it might not be. You just don’t know.

Clearly, he took money off the table. It’s a financially-astute, risk-adjusted approach, even if it left billions of returns behind. A16Z and Paradigm are, I am sure, quite pleased to have made the purchase.

Berlin’s MorphAIs hopes its AI algorithms will put its early-stage VC fund ahead of the pack

MorphAIs is a new VC out of Berlin, aiming to leverage AI algorithms to boost its investment decisions in early-stage startups. But there’s a catch: it hasn’t raised a fund yet.

The firm was founded by Eva-Valérie Gfrerer who was previously head of Growth Marketing at FinTech startup OptioPay and her background is in Behavioural Science and Advanced Information Systems.

Gfrerer says she started MorphAIs to be a tech company, using AI to assess venture investments and then selling that as a service. But after a while, she realized the platform could be applied an in-house fund, hence the drive to now raise a fund.

MorphAIs has already received financing from some serial entrepreneurs, including: Max Laemmle, CEO & Founder Fraugster, previously Better Payment and SumUp; Marc-Alexander Christ, Co-Founder SumUp, previously Groupon (CityDeal) and JP Morgan Chase; Charles Fraenkl, CEO SmartFrog, previously CEO at Gigaset and AOL; Andreas Winiarski, Chairman & Founder awesome capital Group.

She says: “It’s been decades since there has been any meaningful innovation in the processes by which venture capital is allocated. We have built technology to re-invent those processes and push the industry towards more accurate allocation of capital and a less-biased and more inclusive start-up ecosystem.”

She points out that over 80% of early-stage VC funds don’t deliver the minimum expected return rate to their investors. This is true, but admittedly, the VC industry is almost built to throw a lot of money away, in the hope that it will pick the winner that makes up for all the losses.

She now plans to aim for a pre-seed/seed fund, backed by a team consisting of machine learning scientists, mathematicians, and behavioral scientists, and claims that MorphAIs is modeling consistent 16x return rates, after running real-time predictions based on market data.

Her co-founder is Jan Saputra Müller, CTO and Co-Founder, who co-founded and served as CTO for several machine learning companies, including askby.ai.

There’s one problem: Gfrerer’s approach is not unique. For instance, London-based Inreach Ventures has made a big play of using data to hunt down startups. And every other VC in Europe does something similar, more or less.

Will Gfrerer manage to pull off something spectacular? We shall have to wait and find out.

ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

If Coinbase is worth $100 billion, what’s a fair valuation for Stripe?

Mere days after we discussed Coinbase at $77 billion and Stripe at $115 billion in the private markets, those same semi-liquid exchanges have provided a new valuation for the cryptocurrency company. It’s now $100 billion, per Axios’ reporting.

Good thing we argued last week that there could be some merit to Coinbase’s $77 billion secondary market valuation from a particular perspective. We’d look silly today if we’d mocked the $77 billion figure only for it to go up by about a third in just a few days.


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Luckily for us, Axios also got its hands on a few numbers regarding Coinbase’s 2019 and 2020 financial performance, so we can get into all sorts of trouble this morning. We’ll look at the data, which stretches to the end of Q3 2020, and then do some creative extrapolating into Q1 2021 to decide whether Coinbase at $100 billion makes no sense, a little sense or perfect sense.

As always, we’re riffing, not giving investment advice. So read on if you want to noodle on Coinbase with me; its impending direct listing will be one of the year’s most watched financial events.

We’ll drag Stripe back in at the end. Given that the companies now nearly share private-market valuations, we’d be remiss to not unfairly stack them against one another. Into the breach!

Coinbase @ $100B

Axios’ Dan Primack, a good egg in my experience, got the goods on Coinbase’s historical performance. Summarizing the bits we need, here’s what the crypto exchange got up to recently:

  • Coinbase 2019: $530 million in revenues, $30 million in net losses.
  • Coinbase 2020 Q1-Q3: $691 million in revenues, $141 million in net income.

It’s simple to take the 2020 data that we have and extrapolate it into full-year data. Indeed, you get revenues of $921.33 million and net income of $188 million. Compared to its 2019 data, Coinbase would have managed around 74% growth while swinging steeply into the profitable domain.

That’s a killer year. But it’s actually a bit better than we are giving Coinbase credit for. Poking around volume data compiled by Bitcoinity.org, Coinbase had its biggest period of 2020 in terms of bitcoin trading volume in the fourth quarter. Thinking about Coinbase’s 2020 from a trading perspective using the same dataset, it had a great Q1, more staid Q2 and Q3, and a blockbuster Q4 that ramped to record highs at the end.