Register to watch a livestream recording of the Equity podcast!

Throughout its four or so years of life, the Equity podcast crew has had the good fortune to record a few live shows. We sat on the small stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, for example, with Garry Tan one year, and Charles Hudson another. We’ve also ventured to other venues and events with varying levels of success.

But it’s 2021 and there are no IRL events coming up, so we’re bringing back the live show, but on Hopin. That means that no matter where you are, you can swing by, talk a little shit with us, troll Danny in the comments, and generally have a good time as we try to remember how to be charismatic.

And you will be able to see the show recorded before Chris and Grace cut out all the awkward mistakes, ums, pauses, and other shenanigans that you miss in the finished versions that we send out.

It’s free, of course, so click here to register.  If it goes well, we’ll probably get to do more. So, please do swing by if you are free. We’d love to see you.

More details:

  • June 24 at 2:00PM PT
  • Get your ticket HERE

Chat soon! — The Equity Team

 

Anrok raises $4.3M to solve sales tax for SaaS companies

It’s easier than ever to build a product and sell it around the United States, or the world. But if you want to do so without incurring the wrath of any particular state, or nation-state, you’d best have your tax matters in order. This is why Stripe’s news last week that it has built tax-focused tooling to help its customers manage their state bills mattered.

But for SaaS companies, things can be more complicated from a tax perspective. That’s what Anrok, a startup working to build sales tax software for SaaS firms, told TechCrunch.

The company’s CEO, Michelle Valentine, said that modern software companies need specialized help. And her startup is announcing a $4.3 million fundraise today to back its efforts. The capital event was led by Seqouia and Index, the latter firm a place where Valentine used to work.

Anrok delivers its service via an API, and charges based on the total dollar value of sales that it helps a customer manage. Its percentage-fee falls with volume, and you can’t pay more than 0.19% of managed revenue, so it’s pretty cheap regardless, given how strong software gross margins tend to be.

The Anrok founding team: Michelle Valentine, and Kannan Goundan. Via the company.

Valentine said that there are three things that make SaaS tax issues more complex than other products. The first deals with addresses. Software companies have to pay sales tax where customers are located, and often only have partial information. Anrok will help with that problem. The CEO also said that variable SaaS billing makes charging the right amount of tax an interesting issue, and that states have tax laws specifically aimed at the software market that must be navigated.

So, a more mass-market solution might not be the best fit for SaaS companies looking to avoid both trouble with states and the work of handling tax matters themselves.

It’s not hard to see why Anrok was able to raise capital. The company is early-stage with its first customers onboarded, so it’s not posting the sort of revenue growth that investors covet at the later stages. What then were its more fetching attributes? From our perspective, on-demand pricing and a simply gigantic market.

Sure, Anrok is serving SaaS businesses, but it’s doing so using what could be described as a post-SaaS business model; on-demand, or usage-based pricing is an increasingly popular way to charge for software products today, putting Anrok closer to the cutting edge in business-model terms. And the company’s market is essentially every software business out there. That’s a lot of TAM to carve into, something that investors love to see.

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Didi filed to go public in the United States last night, providing a look into the Chinese ride-hailing company’s business. This morning, we’re extending our earlier reporting on the company to dive into its numerical performance, economic health and possible valuation.

Recall that Didi has raised tens of billions worth of private capital from venture capitalists, private equity firms, corporations and other sources. The size of the bet riding on Didi is simply massive.

Didi is approaching the American public markets at a fortuitous moment. While the late-2020 IPO fervor, which sent offerings from DoorDash and others skyrocketing after their debuts, has cooled, valuations for public companies remain high compared to historical norms. And Uber and Lyft, two American ride-hailing companies, have been posting numbers that point to at least a modest recovery in the ride-hailing industry as COVID-19 abates in many parts of the world.

As further grounding, recall that Didi has raised tens of billions worth of private capital from venture capitalists, private equity firms, corporations and other sources. The size of the bet riding on Didi is simply massive. As we explore the company’s finances, then, we’re more than vetting a single company’s performance; we’re examining what sort of returns an ocean of capital may be able to derive from its exit.

In that vein, we’ll consider GMV results, revenue growth, historical profitability, present-day profitability and what Didi may be worth on the American markets, given current comps. Sound good? Into the breach!

Inside Didi’s IPO filing

Starting at the highest level, how quickly has gross transaction volume (GTV) scaled at the company?

GTV

Didi is historically a business that operates in China but has operations today in more than a dozen countries. The impact and recovery of China’s bout with COVID-19 is therefore not the whole picture of the company’s GTV results.

COVID-19 began to affect the company starting in the first quarter of 2020. From the Didi F-1 filing:

Core Platform GTV fell by 32.8% in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter of 2019, and then by 16.0% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the second quarter of 2019.

The dips were short-lived, however, with Didi quickly returning to growth in the second half of the year:

Our businesses resumed growth in the second half of 2020, which moderated the impact on a year-on-year basis. Our Core Platform GTV for the full year 2020 decreased by 4.8% as compared to the full year 2019. Both our China Mobility and International segments were impacted, but whereas the GTV for our China Mobility segment decreased by 6.6% from 2019 to 2020, the GTV for our International segment increased by 11.4% from 2019 to 2020.

Holding to just the Chinese market, we can see how rapidly Didi managed to pick itself up over the last year. Chinese GTV at Didi grew from 25.7 billion RMB to 54.6 billion RMB from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021; naturally, we’re comparing a more pandemic-impacted quarter at the company to a less-affected period, but the comparison is still useful for showing how the company recovered from early-2020 lows.

The number of transactions that Didi recorded in China during the first quarter of this year was also up more than 2x year over year.

On a whole-company basis, Didi’s “core platform GTV,” or the “sum of GTV for our China Mobility and International segments,” posted numbers that are less impressive in growth terms:

Image Credits: Didi F-1 filing

You can see how quickly and painfully COVID-19 blunted Didi’s global operations. But seeing the company settle back to late-2019 GTV numbers in 2021 is not super bullish.

Takeaway: While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive.

Revenue growth

Join Accel’s Arun Mathew at TechCrunch Disrupt in our debate around alt-financing

TechCrunch Disrupt has a long history of bringing leading venture capitalists to the stage to yammer about their industry. Our impending TC Disrupt conference happening on September 21-23 is no different. This time around one of our investor guests is Arun Mathew of Accel, a venture capitalist that you might recall from his recent participation in Webflow’s huge $140 million Series B.

But we aren’t merely asking Mathew out to the event to chat low-code, or SaaS, or simply current intra-venture capital investing dynamics. Instead, he’ll be taking part in our panel on alternative financing (alt-finance) with a few folks that aren’t venture capitalists, but still deploy capital into startups.

Having an Accel partner take part in the panel makes good sense, as the venture firm has an interesting way of approaching bootstrapped companies. Namely that it is willing to show up to pretty large companies and write huge checks. That’s how Accel got into Qualtrics, for example, a deal that worked out pretty well.

But Accel invests from seed through super-late stage, making Mathew the perfect person to bring the venture perspective to the conversation.

The chat should hit on revenue-based financing, other more exotic forms of alt-finance and where the venture world may see capital partnerships, and funding rivalries. Our goal won’t be to incite an argument, but instead to unfold the private capital markets in a manner that helps fans of traditional VC — if there is still such a thing in today’s Tiger Global-led world — and believers in newer methods of capital deployment learn from each other. And so that founders can carve the most reasonable path for themselves as they seek to grow their businesses.

All told it should be a bop and I will see you there!

Don’t trust that SPAC deck

The continuing saga of Lordstown Motor’s struggles as a public company took a new turn today as the electric truck manufacturer made yet more news. Bad news.

Shares of Lordstown are down sharply today after the company reported in an SEC filing that it does not have enough capital to build and launch its electric truck. Here’s the official verbiage (formatting, bolding: TechCrunch):

Since inception, the Company has been developing its flagship vehicle, the Endurance, an electric full-size pickup truck. The Company’s ability to continue as a going concern is dependent on its ability to complete the development of its electric vehicles, obtain regulatory approval, begin commercial scale production and launch the sale of such vehicles.

The Company believes that its current level of cash and cash equivalents are not sufficient to fund commercial scale production and the launch of sale of such vehicles. These conditions raise substantial doubt regarding our ability to continue as a going concern for a period of at least one year from the date of issuance of these unaudited condensed consolidated financial statements.

Now, companies that are trying to invent the future are more risky than, say, established banking concerns that are generating stable GAAP net income. I’m sure that SpaceX looked dicey at times when it was busy crashing rockets on its way to learning how to land them on drone ships.

But in the case of Lordstown’s admission that it cannot “fund commercial scale production and the launch of sale” of its Endurance pickup are fucking galling.

Why? Because when the company pitched its SPAC-led combination and public debut, it was pretty freaking confident that it would have enough cash to do so.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from Lordstown’s investor deck:

You will note in the “Capital Structure” section that the company claimed that it would not need more funding to go to market.

Now Lordstown is pretty sure it’s going to need more money. If it’s putting the possible need in a filing, it means it.

Here’s what the company may do to solve its problems (formatting, bolding: TechCrunch):

To alleviate these conditions, management is currently evaluating various funding alternatives and may seek to raise additional funds through the issuance of equity, mezzanine or debt securities, through arrangements with strategic partners or through obtaining credit from government or financial institutions.

As we seek additional sources of financing, there can be no assurance that such financing would be available to us on favorable terms or at all. Our ability to obtain additional financing in the debt and equity capital markets is subject to several factors, including market and economic conditions, our performance and investor sentiment with respect to us and our industry.

In other words, the company is going to have to lever itself using debt, or dilute existing shareholders through the sale of equity, and Lordstown can’t promise that it will be able to do either “on favorable terms or at all.”

What we’re seeing here is the difference between SEC filings, which are no-bullshit zones, and SPAC decks, which are business propaganda. Shares of Lordstown fell more than 16% during regular trading, and another 6.9% in after-hours trading, as of the time of writing.

This mess from the company that put out this diagram in its investor deck:

In separate news, TechCrunch received an invite to a media availability to visit Lordstown’s operations in May, which included a note that the company “look[s] forward to opening [its] doors and showing you the latest progress from Lordstown Motors as [it] prepare[s] for the beginning of production in late September.” In a new missive sent today concerning the same event, the production timeline was not present.

So, yeah, maybe don’t trust SPAC decks much, if at all.

As Monday.com targets $6B+ IPO valuation, Zoom and Salesforce commit $150M

Team management software company Monday.com dropped a new IPO filing today. The latest document — an F-1/A, because the company is based in Israel — provides what could be Monday.com’s final pre-IPO pricing notes and details planned investments from both Zoom and Salesforce after its public offering closes.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Monday.com’s price range of $125 to $140 per share values it north of $6 billion at the top end of its target interval, a steep upgrade from its final private price recorded in mid-2019.

Let’s quickly unpack its IPO valuation range, discuss the private placements that Zoom and Salesforce plan, and parse what Monday.com’s IPO news means for the broader public offering window.

Because the company is expected to price tomorrow and trade Thursday, we’re looking at data that could prove final, unless Monday.com manages to push its IPO price range higher or prices above its current estimates. Given the sheer number of IPOs that are either filed or rapidly forthcoming, Monday.com could prove to be a bellwether for the larger unicorn software exit market. Therefore, its debut matters to more than itself, its employees and its venture backers.

What’s Monday.com worth?

There are a few ways to value a company as it goes public. The first is its so-called simple valuation. To calculate a simple price for a debuting entity, we simply multiply the two extremes of its IPO price range by the number of shares it will have outstanding after its debut. That works out as follows in the case of Monday.com:

Compose.ai raises $2.1M to help everyone write faster

In today’s GPT-3 world, it’s not uncommon to hear about new software services that deal with text. Compose.ai is one such company, though it built its own language model to help folks write faster. Its early product work was enough for it to land a $2.1 million seed round led by Craft Ventures, it announced this morning.

Compose.ai is essentially an auto-complete function that works wherever you browse the web. The company is also building the capability for its AI-powered backend to learn your voice, imbibe context to help provide better responses, and, in time, absorb a company’s larger voice to help align its aggregate writing output.

Co-founders Landon Sanford and Michael Shuffett told TechCrunch that Compose.ai believes that in five years, average folks won’t type every word that they write. They want to bring that future to more people through the Compose.ai Chrome extension, which hopefully workers can access without having to get corporate permission.

Sanford and Shuffett described their language algorithm as a multi-tier product. Its first tier learns from reading the internet itself, learning English. The second tier deals with specific domains, like email. The third tier learns a user’s voice, and, in time, a fourth tier will deal with a company’s generalized approach to language.

The ability for a company to provide its workers with a shared language model that could offer linguistic and word-choice preferences as they write is an interesting concept. The idea of such a strong, centrally held tone lands somewhere between helpful and intellectually rigid. But lots of folks don’t want to put their own spin on writing; many people don’t like writing at all. So perhaps having more central support won’t be onerous to most — but rather a time-saving hack.

Regardless, Compose.ai is going to staff up modestly with its new raise. The company currently has three full-time workers and some contract help. Sanford and Shuffett told TechCrunch that the company intends to stay small, hiring a few experienced engineering and machine-learning staff to help flesh out its product team.

What’s ahead for Compose? Its founders told TechCrunch that they are starting to talk to the corporate world a bit more than before and are planning on launching a paid service toward the end of the quarter. That could mean early revenue, extending the startup’s runway substantially.

What Compose is building isn’t technically simple, and the company has interesting work ahead of it to get its economics properly tuned. The company’s founders told TechCrunch that the personalization work that its product will execute for customers can be expensive if done incorrectly; the pair said that they could make a future, $10/month plan attractive economically, but if done in a “naive” fashion, Compose.ai could spend $500 in compute costs to support the same account.

That would be bad.

But the company is confident that its impending paid plans should shake out well in financial terms, which makes us all the more interested in giving that version of its product a spin when we get the chance.

Airbase raises $60M as the corporate spend market segments, matures

This morning Airbase, a corporate spend startup, announced that it has closed a $60 million Series B led by Menlo Ventures. The deal’s announcement comes after Divvy, another corporate-spend focused startup, sold to Bill.com for several billion dollars, and other unicorns in the space like Brex and Divvy each raised nine-figure rounds.

According to Airbase CEO Thejo Kote, his company’s round is not a response to the Divvy sale. Instead, he told TechCrunch in an interview, his company kicked off its fundraising process before that deal was announced.

Not that what Airbase undertook was a process in the traditional sense; Kote did not spend months schlepping a deck along Sand Hill Road, imbibing mediocre architecture, overdressed MBAs and good weather in equal quantities. Instead, he decided that his firm was open to raising more capital in April despite having capital in the bank from previous investments, and 10 days later had signed a term sheet with Menlo.

Menlo partner and new Airbase board member Matt Murphy told TechCrunch in a separate interview that his firm had had its eye on the company for some time before its deal, allowing it to move quickly when Kote opened the door to more funding. (Murphy was candid in sharing that he had spent quite some time getting in front of Airbase, which we pass along as evidence of just how competitive the venture capital market can be in 2021.)

According to Kote, his firm’s new capital was raised on a $600 million valuation, post-money, which means that the Menlo-led transaction involved 10% of the company’s shares.

A segmenting market

TechCrunch’s coverage of the corporate spend market has largely focused on the revenue growth of the competing players, and their decision to either charge for the software that they offer along with corporate cards or not. But Kote views the market as segmenting in a somewhat different manner, namely along target customer scale. Divvy, for example, went after SMBs, while Airbase has more of a mid-market focus.

The customer targeting matters, with Kote telling TechCrunch that mid-market companies are looking for a single solution to replace various point-services that they have traditionally paid for. In the case of corporate spend, that could mean that many companies are willing to pay for new software so long as it can replace several services that they were buying discretely before; say, corporate cards and expense management software.

Kote said that the Divvy-Bill.com news was a “massive validation” of his company’s thesis that software would prove key in the market formerly focused on corporate cards, and that offering cards was itself a “race to the bottom.”

In the view of Airbase’s CEO, his company has a six to eight quarter lead on its competitors in product terms. The market will vet that perspective, but the company’s confidence in its vision and new capital should provide it with ample opportunity to prove out its thesis in the coming quarters, and see whether where it views its product in terms of market positioning viz. demand and competitors is correct.

The investor perspective

Menlo Ventures seems to think so, to the tune of its largest single check to date from a non-growth fund. What did Murphy et al. find so compelling about the company? In the investor’s view, Airbase has a shot at replacing point-solutions in mid-market companies, precisely as Kote imagines:

Airbase consolidates all the different spend apps which greatly decreases complexity in workflows as finance teams previously had to jump from app to app and don’t have a real time, holistic view in one place. […] Of course there is an advantage in not having to pay for multiple apps, but the biggest benefits are simplicity of workflows which is where we heard most of the product love.

Murphy continued, adding that at many companies “a manager won’t know until after [a quarter ends] whether the team for example spent above or below budget,” which makes integrated solutions more attractive.

Why does the viewpoint matter? It implies that the market that Airbase can sell into is rather large; instead of considering the aggregate non-payroll spend that its possible customer companies may generate and then applying an interchange vig to the total to calculate its potential scale, we might tabulate mid-market software spend on expenses, accounting and other categories as the startup’s true TAM. And as Airbase can still generate top-line from interchange and other sources, it could be well-situated for long-term growth.

Of course, its competitors are not interested in letting Airbase have all the fun. Ramp recently raised lots of capital, and is investing in its own software stack. With a free price point, it’s perhaps the most aggressive player on the interchange-first side of its market. And Brex is working to make lots of public noise, again, and has its own tower of cash, software focus and recently launched paid-SaaS service.

Now Airbase has more cash than it has ever had in its accounts, and has been busy hiring. The company has picked up a CFO, a general counsel and a VP of sales, from Mattermost, Robinhood and Dropbox, respectively.

Which all sounds very much like the long-term prep work for an eventual IPO. Set your timers for 2024.

Apple releases torrent of updates, and Wall Street yawns

Today’s WWDC keynote from Apple covered a huge range of updates. From a new macOS to a refreshed watchOS to a new iOS, better privacy controls, FaceTime updates, and even iCloud+, there was something for everyone in the laundry list of new code.

Apple’s keynote was essentially what happens when the big tech companies get huge; they have so many projects that they can’t just detail a few items. They have to run down their entire parade of platforms, dropping packets of news concerning each.

But despite the obvious indication that Apple has been hard at work on the critical software side of its business, especially its services-side (more here), Wall Street gave a firm, emphatic shrug.

This is standard but always slightly confusing.

Investors care about future cash flows, at least in theory. Those future cash flows come from anticipated revenues, which are born from product updates, driving growth in sales of services, software, and hardware. Which, apart from the hardware portion of the equation, is precisely what Apple detailed today.

And lo, Wall Street looked upon the drivers of its future earnings estimates, and did sayeth “lol, who really cares.”

Shares of Apple were down a fraction for most of the day, picking up as time passed not thanks to the company’s news dump, but because the Nasdaq largely rose as trading raced to a close.

Here’s the Apple chart, via YCharts:

And here’s the Nasdaq:

Presuming that you are not a ChartMaster™, those might not mean much to you. Don’t worry. The charts say very little all-around so you are missing little. Apple was down a bit, and the Nasdaq up a bit. Then the Nasdaq went up more, and Apple’s stock generally followed. Which is good to be clear, but somewhat immaterial.

So after yet another major Apple event that will help determine the health and popularity of every Apple platform — key drivers of lucrative hardware sales! — the markets are betting that all their prior work estimating the True and Correct value of Apple was dead-on and that there is no need for any sort of up-or-down change.

That, or Apple is so big now that investors are simply betting it will grow in keeping with GDP. Which would be a funny diss. Regardless, more from the Apple event here in case you are behind.

 

This SPAC is betting that a British healthcare company can shake up the US market

Welcome back to the week, and welcome back to The Exchange. Robinhood has yet to file its IPO, so we’re looking at other companies in the meantime. Today it’s Babylon Health, a British healthtech company that is pursuing a U.S. listing via a blank-check company, or SPAC.

You have questions. I have questions. We’ll get to some answers.

But before we do, we wanted to note that Anna and I are looking into the AI startup market tomorrow morning. If you are a VC with notes regarding the current pace of investment into the sector or thoughts on where customer traction is highest, let us know. If you are a founder building an AI-powered startup, we’d also like to hear from you about what you are seeing. Use the subject line “AI startups,” please.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


With that out of the way, let’s get into Babylon Health. We’ll kick off with a short riff on its fundraising history, talk about its product, and then dive into its numbers and, bracing ourselves for impact, its projections.

The larger context this morning is that we’re doing legwork ahead of what could be a super active Q3 2021 IPO cycle. Kanzhun, a Chinese company, has also filed for a U.S. listing. Toss in Robinhood whenever it gets off its duff and gives us its own filing, and we’re being promised a good time.

Babylon Health

Per Crunchbase data, Babylon has raised north of $600 million as a private company. Its funding, however, has not come from sources that we tend to discuss here at TechCrunch. Instead, the company raised some money from more traditional investors like Hoxton Ventures and Kinnevik, but the bulk of its capital was raised from the Saudi Arabian “Public Investment Fund,” or PIF. The PIF led a $550 million round into the British healthtech company back in August 2019.

PitchBook has the round cut into two parts, the larger, first portion of which valued the company at $1.9 billion on a post-money basis.

That figure brings us to the SPAC deal that Babylon is now pursuing. The company’s new equity value after its SPAC deal will land around $4.2 billion, with Babylon sitting on around $540 million in cash after the deal is completed. The company will sport a lower, $3.6 billion enterprise valuation after its merger with SPAC Alkuri.