Adam Neumann planned for his children and grandchildren to control WeWork

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann didn’t plan for his family’s control of WeWork to end at his death but instead expected to pass that control to future generations of Neumanns, too, says Business Insider.

The outlet reports that in a speech Neumann gave to employees in January of this year, footage of which it says it has viewed, Neumann is seen saying that WeWork isn’t “just controlled — we’re generationally controlled.” He reportedly goes on to say that while the five children he shares with wife Rebekah Neumann “don’t have to run the company,” they “do have to stay the moral compass of the company.”

According to BI, Neumann even invoked his future grandchildren, telling those gathered: “It’s important that one day, maybe in 100 years, maybe in 300 years, a great-great-granddaughter of mine will walk into that room and say, ‘Hey, you don’t know me; I actually control the place. The way you’re acting is not how we built it,'” he said.

These may sound like more outlandish proclamations from Neumann, who has a flair for the dramatic. (Talking to Fast Company earlier this year, he compared WeWork to a rare jewel, asking, “Do you know how long it takes a diamond to be created?”)

But before WeWork began coming apart at the seams, Neumann had every reason to believe that he could pass power down to his heirs. Though many public shareholders may not realize as much, a growing number of tech founders enjoy the kind of dual-class shares that Neumann had extracted from investors, shares that don’t merely give founders more voting power for a while after their companies go public or even throughout their lifetimes, but whose power can be passed down to their children, too.

We wrote about this very issue as a kind of hypothetical last month, quoting SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson, a longtime legal scholar and law professor, who told an audience last year that nearly half of companies that went public with dual-class shares between 2004 and 2018 gave corporate insiders “outsized voting rights in perpetuity.”

Warned Jackson, “Those companies are asking shareholders to trust management’s business judgment — not just for five years, or 10 years, or even 50 years. Forever.” Such perpetual dual-class ownership “asks them to trust that founder’s kids. And their kids’ kids. And their grandkid’s kids . . . It raises the prospect that control over our public companies, and ultimately of Main Street’s retirement savings, will be forever held by a small, elite group of corporate insiders — who will pass that power down to their heirs.”

You might argue that it’s senseless to worry, that the market will speak as it did in WeWork’s case. But not every company has such apparent flaws, and Neumann could have made himself a lot harder to shake than he did. In fact, the broader question the video raises is whether anyone will step in to stop the broader trend, or if public market investors will be living with the consequences down the road instead.

Neumann wasn’t insane to imagine the scenario that he did. That doesn’t mean it’s rational. Giving founders super-voting shares for some period after transitioning onto the public market, we can understand. Giving founders so much power that their kids call the shots of these publicly traded companies? Now that is crazy.

Airbnb’s WeWork problem

Airbnb may be another overvalued “unicorn,” but it’s no WeWork.

The Information this morning reported new Airbnb financials — indicating a massive increase in operating losses — that immediately call Airbnb’s future into question. Precisely, Airbnb lost $306 million on operations on $839 million in revenue, namely as a result of marketing spend, in the first quarter of 2019. In total, Airbnb invested $367 million in sales and marketing, representing a 58% increase year-over-year, in Q1. The company is gearing up for a major liquidity event next year and is making a concerted effort to rake in new customers, as any soon-to-be-public business would.

Given WeWork’s sudden demise, coupled with Uber and Lyft’s lukewarm performances on the stock markets, many have wondered how Wall Street will respond to Airbnb’s eventual IPO prospectus. Will money managers have an appetite for another over-valued Silicon Valley darling? Or will the market compete like mad for shares in the massive home-sharing marketplace?

But Airbnb, again, is no WeWork, and I wager Wall Street will have a much friendlier approach to its offering. For one, Airbnb’s co-founder and chief executive officer Brian Chesky isn’t dropping $60 million on private jets — I don’t think. CEO behaviors aside, Airbnb has more capital in the bank than it has raised in its entire 11-year history, which is a whole lot of money. This is all according to a source who is familiar with Airbnb’s financials and shared this detail with TechCrunch following The Information’s Thursday morning report. As for Airbnb, the company told TechCrunch, “we can’t comment on the figures, but 2019 is a big investment year in support of our hosts and guests.”

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014

Airbnb has attracted more than $3.5 billion in equity funding at a $31 billion valuation and has even more locked away in its bank account. Additionally, Airbnb has an untouched $1 billion credit line, the source said. Presumably, the referenced credit line is the 2016 $1 billion debt financing from JPMorgan, CitiGroup, Morgan Stanley and others.

Moreover, Airbnb has been “cumulatively” free cash flow positive for some time, meaning that it’s seen more money coming in than going out during recent quarters, according to our source. It has been reported that Airbnb surpassed $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019 and in the third quarter of 2018, but we’re guessing the business did not top $1 billion in Q4 of 2018 or Q1 of 2019 because it if had, that information would probably have been “leaked.”

Finally, Airbnb has been profitable on an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) basis for two consecutive years, the company announced in January. Gross bookings, meanwhile, are growing, as is Airbnb’s business offering and its experiences product.

Why does any of this matter, you ask?

MyGate raises $56M to bring its security management service to more gated communities in India

MyGate, a Bangalore-based startup that offers security management and convenience service for guard-gated premises, said today it has bagged more than $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in the nation.

Chinese internet giant Tencent, Tiger Global, JS Capital and existing investor Prime Venture Partners funded the three-year-old startup’s $56 million Series B financing round. The new round pushes MyGate’s total fundraise to $67.5 million.

MyGate offers an eponymous mobile app that allows home residents to approve entries and exits, communicate with their neighbors, log attendance and pay society maintenance bills and daily help workers.

The startup says it is operational in 11 cities in India and has amassed over 1.2 million home customers. Its customer base is increasing by 20% each month, it claimed. The service is handling 60,000 requests each minute and clocking over 45 million check-in requests each month.

The idea of MyGate came after its co-founder and CEO, Vijay Arisetty, left the Indian armed force. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said his family was appalled to learn about the poor state of security across societies in India.

“This was also when e-commerce companies and food delivery firms were beginning to gain strong foothold in the nation. This meant that many people were entering a gated community each day,” he said.

MyGate has inked partnerships with many e-commerce players to create a system to offer a silent and secure delivery experience for its users. The startup also trains guards to understand the system.

According to industry estimates, more than 4.5 million people in India today live in gated communities, and that figure is growing by 13% each year. The private security industry in the country is a $15 billion market.

Arisetty says he believes the startup could significantly accelerate its growth as its solution understands the price-sensitive market. Using MyGate costs an apartment about Rs 20 (28 cents) per month. Even at that price, the startup says it is making a profit. “Today, we are seeing more demand than we can handle,” he said.

That’s where the new funding would come into play for the startup, which today employs about 700 people.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital to expand its technology infrastructure, its marketing and operations teams and build new features. The startup aims to reach 15 million homes in 40 Indian cities in the next 18 months.

In a statement, Sanjay Swamy, managing partner at Prime Venture Partners, said, “It’s been great to see a fledgling startup execute consistently and holistically, and grow into a category-creating market-leader.”

Booqed, a Hong Kong-based platform for on-demand work spaces, raises $1.675 million in seed funding

Booqed, a Hong Kong-based platform for booking short-term work spaces, announced today that it has raised $1.675 million in seed funding. Participants included Colliers International, the commercial real-estate management company, Techstars and Lazard Korea.

The company participated in Proptech Accelerator, the Toronto-based accelerator program for property and real estate startups run by Colliers and Techstars, in 2018.

Launched in September 2016, Booqed currently has 1,600 listings for spaces in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Singapore. It will use its seed round on product roll-outs, marketing and hiring. The platform differentiates from co-working spaces and companies like WeWork because its inventory consists of underused spaces in existing commercial properties, giving property owners and managers to way to make money instead of letting them sit empty.

Booking times can be as short as an hour or as long as several months, and listings include offices and meeting rooms, event spaces, retail stores and studios. Most of the startup’s customers are corporate clients that need to book venues or work spaces for traveling employees.

India’s NoBroker raises $50M to help people buy and rent without real estate brokers

An Indian startup that is attempting to improve the way how millions of people in the nation lease or buy an apartment — by not paying any brokerage — just raised a significant amount of capital to further expand its business.

NoBroker said on Wednesday it has raised $50 million in a new financing round. The Series D round for the Bangalore-based real estate property operator was led by Tiger Global Management and included participation from existing investor General Atlantic. The five-year-old startup, which closed its previous financing round in June, has raised $121 million to date. The new round valued NoBroker at about $325 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

NoBroker operates in six cities in India: Bengaluru, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. The startup has established itself as one of the largest players in the local real estate business. It operates over 3 million properties on its website and serves about 7 million users. It is adding more than 280,000 new users each month, Amit Kumar, cofounder and CEO of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Real estate brokers in India, as is true in other markets, help people find properties. But they can charge up to 10 months worth of rent (leasing) — or a single-digit percent of the apartment’s worth if someone is buying the property — in urban cities as their commission. NoBroker allows the owner of a property to directly connect with potential tenants to remove brokerage charges from the equation.

The startup makes money in three ways. First, it lets non-paying users get in touch with only nine property owners. Those who wish to contact more property owners are required to pay a fee. Second, property owners can opt to pay NoBroker to have its representatives deal with prospective buyers — in a move that ironically makes the startup serve as a broker.

NoBroker also offers end-to-end services such as rent agreements, home loans, and movers and packers, for which it also charges a fee. The startup says it uses machine learning to speed up the transactions and make it service low-cost.

The startup processes about $14 million in rent each month, Kumar said. This is increasing by 25%-30% each month, he said. NoBroker’s business in Bangalore and Mumbai, two of its largest cities, are already profitable, Kumar said.

The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business and build more products. It recently launched a community and digital management app to keep a digital log of all the entries — say a Flipkart delivery personnel comes to your house — occurring in a society, and maintain a dialogue with other people in a vicinity. The app also allows users to exchange goods with one another and pay their utility bills, startup’s executives said.

The new financing round is oddly smaller than $51 million NoBroker had raised in June this year. Saurabh Garg, chief business officer of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview that the founding team did not want to dilute their stake in the startup, hence they opted for a smaller round.

NoBroker is competing with a number of players including Proptiger, 99Acres, and heavily backed NestAway, which counts Goldman Sachs and Tiger Global among its investors. NestAway operates in eight Indian cities and has raised north of $100 million to date. Budget hotel startup Oyo, which has already become one of the largest hotel businesses in the world, also operates in NoBroker’s territory with Oyo Living.

But NoBroker’s Kumar said he does not see Oyo and other startups as competition. Instead, “these other players are some of our largest clients,” he said. India’s real estate industry is estimated to grow to $1 trillion in worth by 2030.

The business model of NoBroker has also created new local challenges for the startup. Brokers are unsurprisingly not happy with startups such as NoBroker and have grown hostile in recent years. In recent years, they have attacked and harassed NoBroker employees. So much so that the startup had to delist its address from Google Maps. But Kumar said the mindset of people is changing.

The We Company reportedly will put its public offering on hold

The We Company, parent company of the short-term real estate property management and development company WeWork and other We-related subsidiaries, is reportedly shelving its plans for an initial public offering.

The company’s plans for a public offering have been hampered by questions about its corporate governance and the ultimate value of a company that private investors once thought was worth nearly $50 billion.

Public investors were balking at that sky-high valuation and the company’s questionable governance practices under chief executive officer and co-founder, Adam Neumann, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news that The We Company would put its offering on hold. 

Over the past few weeks, The We Company has made several moves to allay investors’ concerns. The company unwound some particularly egregious transactions with Neumann and added new directors. It also moved to limit Neumann’s power at the company.

Last week, the company amended its prospectus to include the appointment of an independent lead director. It also slashed the strength of Class B and Class C shares so Neumann would not have 20 times the voting power of other shareholders, and removed Neumann’s wife from succession planning at the company.

Even these steps were not enough to comfort Wall Street investors, apparently. Not even the attempts to slash the company’s valuation to below $10 billion could attract enough investor interest to the public offering. And the opacity of The We Company’s reporting and metrics likely did nothing to help matters in the eyes of the investing public.

Now that The We Company is likely to pull its public offering… and with Uber and Lyft underperforming in their first year as public companies, perhaps venture capital firms will rethink the sky-high valuations they’d placed on their portfolio companies. Perhaps it’s time to relearn the lesson that greed may not actually be good.

We have reached out to The We Company for comment and will update with their response.

This story is developing. 

 

 

Patch Homes locks in $5M Series A to give homeowners financial freedom without debt

Home ownership has long been touted as the American dream. But rising rates of mortgage debt and student loan debt are making the pursuit of home ownership a nightmare. Debt-burdened individuals or those with inconsistent or tight cash flow can not only struggle to get credit loan approval when buying a home but also struggle to satisfy monthly mortgage payments even after purchase. 

Patch Homes is hoping to keep the proverbial American dream alive. Patch looks to provide homeowners with cash flow and liquidity by allowing them to monetize their homes without taking on debt, interest or burdensome monthly payments. 

Today, Patch took another big step in making its vision a far-reaching reality. The company has announced it has raised a $5 million Series A round led by Union Square Ventures (USV), with participation by from Tribe Capital and previous investors Techstars Ventures, Breega Capital and Greg Schroy.

Patch Home looks to partner with homeowners by investing up to $250,000 (with an average investment of ~$100,000) for an equity stake in the home’s value, generally in the 5% to 20% range. Homeowners aren’t subject to any interest or recurring payments and have 10 years to pay back Patch’s investment. Upon doing so, the only incremental money Patch receives is its portion of the change in the home’s value over the course of the 10-year period. If the value of the home goes down in value, Patch willingly takes a loss on its investment.

According to Patch Homes CEO and co-founder Sahil Gupta, one of the major motivations behind the company’s model is to align Patch’s incentives with the homeowners’, allowing both parties to think of each other as trusted partners even after financing. After Patch’s investment, the company provides a number of ancillary services to homeowners, such as credit score monitoring, as well as home value and property tax tracking.

In one instance recounted by Gupta in an interview with TechCrunch, Patch even covered three months of an owner’s mortgage during a liquidity crunch for his small business, allowing him to maintain his home and credit score. Patch is incentivized to provide all services that can help ensure an increase in home value, benefiting both Patch and the homeowner, with the homeowner earning the majority of the asset’s appreciated value.  

Additionally, since Patch’s model isn’t focused on a homeowner’s ability to pay back a loan, interest or periodic payments, Patch is able to provide financing to more people. Patch is able to help those with more variable qualifications that struggle to get traditional loans — such as a 1099 contracted worker — monetize their illiquid assets with less harsh or restrictive terms and without increasing their debt burden. Gupta described this as solving the core problem of providing liquidity to asset-rich but cash-flow sensitive people. 

Patch is not only looking to provide easier liquidity to more homeowners, but they’re trying to do so faster than traditional lenders. Interested customers can first receive a free estimate of whether Patch will invest in their home or not, how much it’s willing to invest and what percentage equity it will take — primarily based on Patch’s machine learning models that focus on asset, market and location-level attributes. 

After the initial estimate, a Patch home advisor will educate the customer on the product and start a formal application process, which includes your standard income and credit score verification, which takes 5-10 days. All-in, homeowners have the ability to get money in as little as 14 days, a significantly shorter timeline than your standard home credit process. Once the investment is made, owners have full freedom with how they use the money.

According to Patch, while its customers come from a diverse set of backgrounds, many either with accumulated debt have to pay down the net or may struggle making monthly payments. The average Patch homeowner uses 40% of the investment to eliminate debt, adds 40% to their savings account or passive income and invests 20% into home improvements.

To date, Patch has raised a total of $6 million and believes the latest round of funding will help scale its operations as they team up with advisors like USV that have experience scaling fintech companies (such as a Lending Club or Carta). The funds will be used to invest in product and Patch’s clearing technology in order to further expedite Patch’s lending process.

Patch also hopes to use the investment to help them gradually expand their footprint, with the goal of eventually having a presence all 50 states. (Patch is currently available in 11 regional markets within California and Washington and expects to be in 18 regional markets by the end of the year including those in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.)

Patch Homes Co Founders Sundeep Ambati L and Sahil Gupta R

Image via Patch Homes

What makes home ownership so galvanizing for the Patch team? Patch CEO Sahil Gupta spent years putting his Carnegie Mellon financial engineering degree to work in banking and finance, as well as in financial products and strategy positions at fintech startups backed by heavy hitters such as YC and Goldman Sachs.

After realizing the majority of the U.S. population are homeowners, but were struggling to make monthly payments or save for the future, Sahil wanted to figure out to take an illiquid asset like a home and make it easily accessible. 

Around the same time, Sahil’s co-founder Sundeep Ambati was working as a contractor on a new business venture of his and was struggling to get a home equity loan. While these circumstances ultimately led Sahil and Sundeep to found Patch Homes in 2016 out of the Techstars New York accelerator program, the deeper motivation behind Patch can be traced back nearly 30 years when Sahil’s father made an equity-sharing agreement with his brother as they were building his family’s home in India.

With a growing family and a pregnant wife, Sunil’s father was adamant about living debt-free, so his brother provided an investment in exchange for an equity stake in the house. According to Sahil, the home is still in the family and has appreciated substantially in value to the benefit of both Sahil’s father and his brother. Longer-term, Patch wants to be the preferred partner for home ownership, helping reduce cash-tight owners’ financial anxiety without the debilitating weight of debt. 

“Some companies want to help people buy or sell homes, but home ownership really begins after that point. Patch is built to be inside the home with you and everything that comes thereafter,” Gupta told TechCrunch.

“Patch was created to partner with homeowners to help them unlock their home equity so they can achieve their financial goals along every step of their home ownership journey.

SoftBank mints QuintoAndar a new unicorn in Latin American real estate tech

QuintoAndar, the Brazilian real estate technology developer, has secured a massive $250 million Series D led by SoftBank, as the Japanese conglomerate continues to deploy its $5 billion commitment to the Latin American region. The round is the latest sign that startups in Latin America can get money if they’re developing technologies in specific areas that are massive painpoints for the geography’s nascent middle class.

QuintoAndar invented a marketplace that lets users search, book, rent and advertise rental properties in Brazil. The site manages listings and visits, transaction processing between tenants and landlords, and houses the digital contracts that bind these agreements together. QuintoAndar also developed a credit analysis system that negates the need for co-signers, deposits and rental insurance – barriers that have historically blocked deal flow in this industry.

Co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga says QuintoAndar has now entered unicorn territory thanks to the SoftBank-led round. Dragoneer also participated, as well as return investors General Atlantic and Kaszek (which recently announced a fresh $600 million fund of its own). 

QuintoAndar, which literally translates from Portuguese to English as “fifth floor,” is an example of a Brazilian startup solving Brazilian problems. Those seeking long-term rentals in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are throttled by bureaucratic policies that enforce expensive deposits, co-signer requirements and skyscraper-high insurance fees. On the supply side, amateur landlords are tunnel visioned on making money from transactions, creating a terrible customer service experience for tenants, along with wasted hours of apartment hunting. QuintoAndar is billing itself as a modernized fix that lets users search, book, rent and advertise rental properties in Brazil. 

The startup, which has grown into a 1,000 person São Paulo-based operation has now amassed a total of $345 million to date, including a $64 million Series C led by General Atlantic that closed just nine months ago. Braga declined to confirm the exact valuation of QuintoAndar, but says that it has crossed the threshold of billion dollar status. The company was founded in 2013. 

Why is this long term rentals startup accumulating so much capital? Brazilians are seeing home ownership as less of a long-term goal and are opting to rent, meaning more money in the bank and freedom to relocate. This, the founder believes, creates a big opportunity to make renting more efficient in a country where 62% of Brazilians are aged 29 or under, according to this review. Brazil’s population of 211,000,000 people has proven a hungry enough market for a startup like QuintoAndar to turn profitable, and to attract foreign investors like SoftBank. Co-founders André Penha and Braga were able to leverage these massive foreign investment checks to create a specific product to help generate liquidity for users in its home market. 

Braga says the company doesn’t measure success by volume of users or its newly minted unicorn status, but by number of property visits carried out on QuintoAndar. The company is projecting over 2 million visits scheduled through its platform in 2019, and is seeing 4,500 contracts signed per month. The CEO attributes QuintoAndar’s popularity to its ease of use, and the fact that the renting service is generating liquidity for brokers and sellers in the Brazilian long term rentals market. 

With the new funding, Braga intends to strengthen QuintoAndar’s userbase by acquiring new customers in more cities across Brazil. The company also intends to attract new talent and build out broker partnerships. In the long term, QuintoAndar envisions launching more financial products for its customers, and eventually using its suite of data to make recommendations for services like home renovations. 

QuintoAndar now joins Nubank, Loggi, Gympass and Stone in the growing club of billion dollar Brazilian tech companies, but its founder is more interested in keeping the momentum going than celebrating entrance into the Latin American unicorn club. “I’m more focused on the long term mission that we have, and not overly excited about being a unicorn. Tomorrow’s another day, we have to keep working,” says Braga. 

Top VCs on the changing landscape for enterprise startups

Yesterday at TechCrunch’s Enterprise event in San Francisco, we sat down with three venture capitalists who spend a lot of their time thinking about enterprise startups. We wanted to ask what trends they are seeing, what concerns they might have about the state of the market, and of course, how startups might persuade them to write out a check.

We covered a lot of ground with the investors — Jason Green of Emergence Capital, Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures, and Maha Ibrahim of Canaan Partners — who told us, among other things, that startups shouldn’t expect a big M&A event right now, that there’s no first-mover advantage in the enterprise realm, and why grit may be the quality that ends up keeping a startup afloat.

On the growth of enterprise startups:

Jason Green: When we started Emergence 15 years ago, we saw maybe a few hundred startups a year, and we funded about five or six. Today, we see over 1,000 a year; we probably do deep diligence on 25.

Flat, a Mexican property tech startup, raises $4.6M pre-seed led by ALLVP

Flat has raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande. 

The company snagged a $4.5 million pre-seed round to expand its business helping homeowners quickly sell their properties in Mexico. The round was led by ALLVP, an active early-stage fund in Mexico. California-based Liquid 2 Ventures (for which Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana is a GP), NextBillion and a few angels supported the round, as well. 

At the time of writing, Flat’s raise is the largest pre-seed funding round for a Mexican startup aside from the scooter company, Grin, which was backed by Y Combinator and later went on to raise a $45 million Series A and consolidate with Brazil’s bike-sharing startup, Yellow. 

While this ‘i-buying’ business model was initially pioneered by Opendoor in the U.S., the same need to efficiently sell property exists for consumers in other growing markets around the world. That’s why co-founders Victor Noguera and Bernardo Cordero founded Flat. 

Bucking a trend that has seen many new Latin American founders hailing from Stanford University, Cordero and Noguera met at the University of California, Berkeley — just across the bay.

The founders estimate the total value of the 40 million homes in Mexico to be a $1.6 trillion total addressable market. They equate the value of homes sold per year to $25 billion. Let’s not forget the elephant in the room — SoftBank is undoubtedly eyeing Mexico with its $5 billion LatAm commitment. 

Flat says it’s solving a few problems in the local home-buying market in Mexico. Firstly, anyone interested in selling their property lacks information about how much their home is actually worth. In the U.S., sellers can reference Zillow — but no such centralized database of real estate pricing information for the market of Mexico exists. 

Screen Shot 2019 09 04 at 4.02.51 PM

Then there’s the operational piece of transferring ownership of the property, which Flat says can take up to eight months and is a notarized process — making the overall experience incredibly illiquid. 

Flat’s actual product is a marketplace focused on helping the seller sell quickly. Flat visits your home, takes measurements, documents how many bathrooms and bedrooms exist in the property and determines how much your home is worth. From there, they manage renovations and transfer ownership of the property. The seller is paid within 72 hours. 

International expansion has been difficult for many startups operating in Latin America as every country has its own regulatory barriers. That’s why when it comes to growth, Flat says it’s more focused on growing out their product within other verticals of property management to only serve a Mexican market, rather than expand to other Spanish-language countries in the LatAm region.