For M&A success, tap legal early and often

While mergers and acquisitions may be the right strategic path for many businesses, organizations tend to underestimate the role in-house legal teams play in a large-scale strategic transaction until the company is firmly entrenched in a deal.

While the CEO and board might fully appreciate the counsel of the legal team, the ability of the legal team to earn the support of the business — from product and development to marketing and HR — is critical to a smooth, efficient closing and post-close integration process.

Your in-house legal team should be held accountable for catching things specific to your business that outside attorneys will miss.

Having been on the inside of M&A transactions, here are a few insights that I recommend any executive team considering a major strategic transaction keep in mind when working with, and setting expectations for, the in-house legal function as the deal moves from business agreement to closing and through integration.

Is this the right transaction to move the business forward?

When you’re thinking of M&A (or any other type of strategic transaction, for that matter), it is critical to understand why you’re pursuing a deal and what the potential implications (both good and bad) may be for the business at large.

As the executive or founding team, have you agreed that doing the deal is the best way to further the overall strategic business objectives? Is the proposed deal allowing the company to scale more rapidly or efficiently? Does the transaction provide for a more diversified, complementary product offering?

After settling that the deal is the best way to achieve the overall business objective, the next focus is on execution. How will the resulting leadership bring together the two organizations? Do you have a plan on how to go from closing the transaction to successfully moving forward with the strategic purposes for doing the transaction in the first place? Is there agreement on product direction, go-to-market strategies, staffing, company culture, etc.?

These high-level discussions are important to have while evaluating a potential deal, and bringing in your internal legal leadership is critical in these early phases. You may identify during these early discussions aspects that are critical for the deal to be a success, and being sure your legal team is aware of these aspects allows the team to anticipate post-closing issues and resolve them proactively with the structure of the deal or by explicitly calling out critical obligations of each party.

Your in-house legal team should be held accountable for catching things specific to your business that outside attorneys will miss. Outside attorneys are experts in M&A or IPOs or venture financings or whatever else, but your in-house lawyers are experts in your company — that’s the true value of having an in-house team.

How to break into Silicon Valley as an outsider

Domm Holland, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce startup Fast, appears to be living a founder’s dream.

His big idea came from a small moment in his real life. Holland watched as his wife’s grandmother tried to order groceries, but she had forgotten her password and wasn’t able to complete the transaction.

“I just remember thinking it was preposterous,” Holland said. “It defied belief that some arbitrary string of text was a blocker to commerce.”

So he built a prototype of a passwordless authentication system where users would fill out their information once and would never need to do so again. Within 24 hours, tens of thousands of people had used it.

Nothing beats building human networks. That’s the way that you’re going to get this done in terms of fundraising.

Shoppers weren’t the only ones on board with this idea. In less than two years, Holland has raised $124 million in three rounds of fundraising, bringing on partners like Index Ventures and Stripe.

Although the success of Fast’s one-click checkout product has been speedy, it hasn’t been effortless.

For one thing, Holland is Australian, which means he started out as a Silicon Valley outsider. When he arrived in the U.S. in the summer of 2019, he had exactly one Bay Area contact in his phone. He built his network from the ground up, a strategic process he credits to one thing: hard work.

On an episode of the “How I Raised It” podcast, Holland talks about how he built his network, why it’s important — not just for fundraising but for building the entire business — and how to avoid the mistakes he sees new founders make.

Reach out with relevance

Holland’s primary strategy in building networks sounds like an obvious one — reach out to relevant people.

“When I first got to the States, I wanted to build networks,” Holland said, “but I didn’t really know anyone here in the Bay Area. So I spent a lot of time reaching out to relevant people — people working in payments, people working in technology, people working in identity authentication — just really relevant people in the space working in Big Tech who were building large-scale networks.”

One of the people Holland connected with was Allison Barr Allen, then the head of global product operations at Uber. Barr Allen managed her own angel investment fund, but Holland wasn’t actually looking for money when he reached out to her. He was much more interested in her perspective as the leader of an enormous financial services operation.

How to lead a digital transformation — ethically

The fact that COVID-19 accelerated the need for digital transformation across virtually all sectors is old news. What companies are doing to propel success under the circumstances has been under the spotlight. However, how they do it has managed to find a place in the shadows.

Simply put, the explosive increase in innovation and adoption of digital solutions shouldn’t be allowed to take place at the expense of ethical considerations.

This is about morals — but it’s also about the bottom line. Stakeholders, both internal and external, are increasingly intolerant of companies that blur (or ignore) ethical lines. These realities add up to a need for leaders to embrace an all-new learning curve: How to engage in digital transformation that includes ethics by design.

Simply put, the explosive increase in innovation and adoption of digital solutions shouldn’t be allowed to take place at the expense of ethical considerations.

Ethics as an afterthought is asking for problems

It’s easy to rail against the evils of the executive lifestyle or golden parachuting, but more often than not, a pattern of ethics violations arises from companywide culture, not leadership alone. Ideally, employees act ethically because it aligns with their personal values. However, at a minimum, they should understand the risk that an ethical breach represents to the organization.

In my experience, those conversations are not being held. Call it poor communication or lack of vision, but most companies rarely model potential ethical risks — at least not openly. If those discussions take place, they’re typically between members of upper management, behind closed doors.

Why don’t ethical concerns get more of a “town hall” treatment? The answer may come down to an unwillingness to let go of traditional thinking about business hierarchies. It could also be related to the strong (and ironically, toxic) cultural message that positivity rules. Case in point: I’ve listened to leaders say they want to create a culture of disruptive thinking — only to promptly tell an employee who speaks up that they “lack a growth mindset.”

What’s the answer, then? There are three solutions I’ve found to be effective:

  1. Making ethics a core value of the organization.
  2. Embracing transparency.
  3. Proactively developing strategies to contend with ethical challenges and violations.

These simple solutions are a great starting point to solve ethics issues regarding digital transformation and beyond. They cause leaders to look into the heart of the company and make decisions that will impact the organization for years to come.

Interpersonal dynamics are a concern in the digital transformation arena

Making digital shifts is, by nature, a technical operation. It requires personnel with advanced and varied expertise in areas such as AI and data operations. Leaders in the digital transformation space are expected to possess enough cross-domain competency to tackle tough problems.

That’s a big ask — bringing a host of technically minded people together can easily lead to a culture of expertise arrogance that leaves people who don’t know the lingo intimidated and reluctant to ask questions.

Digital transformation isn’t simply about infrastructure or tools. It is, at its heart, about change management, and a multifunctional approach is needed to ensure a healthy transition. The biggest mistake companies can make is assuming that only technical experts should be at the table. The silos that are built as a result inevitably turn into echo chambers — the last place you want to hold a conversation about ethics.

In the rush to go digital, regardless of how technical the problem, the solution will still be a fundamentally human-centric one.

Ethical digital transformation needs a starting point

Not all ethical imperatives related to digital transformation are as debatable as the suggestion that it should be people-first; some are much more black and white, like the fact that you have to start somewhere to get anywhere.

Luckily, “somewhere” doesn’t have to be from scratch. Government, risk and compliance (GRC) standards can be used to create a highly structured framework that’s mostly closed to interpretation and provides a solid foundation for building out and adopting digital solutions.

The utility of GRC models applies equally to startup multinationals and offers more than just a playbook; thoughtful application of GRC standards can also help with leadership evaluation, progress reports and risk analysis. Think of it like using bowling bumpers — they won’t guarantee you roll a strike, but they’ll definitely keep the ball out of the gutter.

Of course, a given company might not know how to create a GRC-based framework (just like most of us would be at a loss if tasked with building a set of bowling bumpers). This is why many turn to providers like IBM OpenPages, COBIT and ITIL for prefab foundations. These “starter kits” all share a single goal: Identify policies and controls that are relevant to your industry or organization and draw lines from those to pivotal compliance points.

Although getting started with the GRC process is typically cloud-based and at least partially automated, it requires organizationwide input and transparency. It can’t be effectively run by specific departments, or in a strictly top-down fashion. In fact, the single most important thing to understand about implementing GRC standards is that it will almost certainly fail unless both an organization’s leadership and broader culture fully support the direction in which it points.

An ethics-first mindset protects employees and the bottom line

Today’s leaders — executives, entrepreneurs, influencers and more — can’t be solely concerned with “winning” the digital race. Arguably, transformation is more of a marathon than a sprint, but either way, technique matters. In pursuing the end goal of competitive advantage, the how and why matter just as much as the what.

This is true for all arms of an organization. Internal stakeholders such as owners and employees risk their careers and reputations by tolerating a peripheral approach to ethics. External stakeholders like customers, investors and suppliers have just as much to lose. Their mutual understanding of this fact is what’s behind the collective, cross-industry push for transparency.

We’ve all seen the massive blowback against individuals and brands in the public eye who allow ethical lapses on their watch. It’s impossible to fully eliminate the risk of experiencing something similar, but it is a risk that can be managed. The danger is in letting the “tech blinders” of digital transformation interfere with your view of the big picture.

Companies that want to mitigate that risk and rise to the challenges of the digital era in a truly ethical way need to start by simply having conversations about what ethics, transparency and inclusivity mean — both in and around the organization. They need to follow up those conversations with action where necessary, and with open-mindedness across the board.

It’s smart to be worried about innovation lag in a time when enterprise is moving and shifting faster than ever, but there is time to make all the proper ethical considerations. Failing to do so will only derail you down the line.

Extra Crunch roundup: Fintech stays hot, Brex doubles, and startup IRR is up all over

Tech companies in Silicon Valley, the geography, have had an incredible year. But one indicator points to longer-term changes. The internal rate of return (IRR) for companies in other startup hub cities has been even better. A big new analysis by AngelList showed aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals elsewhere versus 17.5% locally. A separate measure, of total value of paid-in investment, revealed 1.67x returns for other hubs versus 1.60x in the main Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech cities.

The data is based on a sample of 2,500 companies that have used AngelList to syndicate deals from 2013 through 2020. Which is just one snapshot, but a relevant one given how hard it can be to produce accurate early-stage startup market analysis at this scale. I believe we’ll see more and more data confirming the trends in the coming years, especially as more of the startup world acclimates to remote-first and distributed offices. You can increasingly do a startup from anywhere and make it a success. Not that Silicon Valley is lacking optimism, as you’ll see in a number of the other stories in the roundup below!

Eric Eldon
Managing Editor, Extra Crunch

(Subbing in for Walter today as he’s enjoying a well-deserved break and definitely not still checking the site.)

Optimism reigns at consumer trading services as fintech VC spikes and Robinhood IPO looms

With the Coinbase direct listing behind us and the Robinhood IPO ahead, it’s a heady time for consumer-focused trading apps.

Mix in the impending SPAC-led debut of eToro, general bullishness in the cryptocurrency space, record highs for some equities markets, and recent rounds from Public.com, M1 Finance and U.K.-based Freetrade, and you could be excused for expecting the boom in consumer asset trading to keep going up and to the right.

But will it? There are data in both directions.

After going public, once-hot startups are riding a valuation roller coaster

A short meditation on value, or, more precisely, how assets are valued in today’s markets.

Long story short: This is why I only buy index funds. No one knows what anything (interesting) is worth.

Should you give an anchor investor a stake in your fund’s management company?

Image of a red anchor resting on pile of money.

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

Raising capital for a new fund is always hard.

But should you give preferential economics or other benefits to a seed anchor investor who makes a material commitment to the fund? Let’s break down the pros and cons.

2021 should be a banner year for biotech startups that make smart choices early

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Last year was a record 12 months for venture-backed biotech and pharma companies, with deal activity rising to $28.5 billion from $17.8 billion in 2019.

As vaccines roll out, drug development pipelines return to normal, and next-generation therapies continue to hold investor interest, 2021 is on pace to be another blockbuster year.

But founder missteps early in the fundraising journey can result in severe consequences.

In this exciting moment, when younger founders will likely receive more attention, capital and control than ever, it’s crucial to avoid certain pitfalls.

Two investors weigh in: Is your SPAC just a PIPE dream?

A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow pane of focus. Composition made in photoshop. (A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow

Image Credits: Maxime Robeyns/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The fundamental thing to remember about the SPAC process is that the result is a publicly traded company open to the regulatory environment of the SEC and the scrutiny of public shareholders.

In today’s fast-paced IPO world, going public can seem like simply a marker of success, a box to check.

But are you ready to be a public company?

There is no cybersecurity skills gap, but CISOs must think creatively

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Those of us who read a lot of tech and business publications have heard for years about the cybersecurity skills gap. Studies often claim that millions of jobs are going unfilled because there aren’t enough qualified candidates available for hire.

Don’t buy it.

The basic laws of supply and demand mean there will always be people in the workforce willing to move into well-paid security jobs. The problem is not that these folks don’t exist. It’s that CIOs or CISOs typically look right past them if their resumes don’t have a very specific list of qualifications.

In many cases, hiring managers expect applicants to be fully trained on all the technologies their organization currently uses. That not only makes it harder to find qualified candidates, but it also reduces the diversity of experience within security teams — which, ultimately, may weaken the company’s security capabilities and its talent pool.

To be frank, we do not know how to value Honest Company

We do not know how to value Honest Company.

It’s outside our normal remit, but that the company is getting out the door at what appears to be a workable price gain to its final private round implies that investors earlier in its cap table are set to do just fine in its debut. Snowflake it is not, but at its current IPO price interval, it is hard to not call Honest a success of sorts — though we also anticipate that its investors had higher hopes.

Returning to our question, do we expect the company to reprice higher? No, but if it did, The Exchange crew would not fall over in shock.

How Brex more than doubled its valuation in a year

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Image Credits: TechCrunch

Brex, a fintech company that provides corporate cards and spend-management software to businesses, announced Monday that it closed a $425 million Series D round of capital at a valuation of around $7.4 billion.

The new capital came less than a year after Brex raised $150 million at a $2.9 billion pre-money valuation.

So, how did the company manage to so rapidly boost its valuation and raise its largest round to date?

TechCrunch spoke with Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras after his company’s news broke. We dug into the how and why of its new investment and riffed on what going remote-first has done for the company, as well as its ability to attract culture-aligned and more diverse talent.

Founders who don’t properly vet VCs set up both parties for failure

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There’s a disconnect between reality and the added value investors are promising entrepreneurs. Three in five founders who were promised added value by their VCs felt duped by their negative experience.

While this feels like a letdown by investors, in reality, it shows fault on both sides. Due diligence isn’t a one-way street, and founders must do their homework to make sure they’re not jumping into deals with VCs who are only paying lip service to their value-add.

Looking into an investor’s past, reputation and connections isn’t about finding the perfect VC, it’s about knowing what shaking certain hands will entail — and either being ready for it or walking away.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities

Image Credits: Jeff Newton / Hippo

What is the biggest opportunity for proptech founders? How should they think about competition, strategic investment versus top-tier VC firms and how to build their board? What about navigating regulation?

We sat down with Brendan Wallace, co-founder and general manager of Fifth Wall, and Hippo CEO Assaf Wand for an episode of Extra Crunch Live to discuss all of the above.

SaaS subscriptions may be short-serving your customers

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Software as a service (SaaS) has perhaps become a bit too interchangeable with subscription models.

Every software company now looks to sell by subscription ASAP, but the model itself might not fit all industries or, more importantly, align with customer needs, especially early on.

What can the OKR software sector tell us about startup growth more generally?

In the never-ending stream of venture capital funding rounds, from time to time, a group of startups working on the same problem will raise money nearly in unison. So it was with OKR-focused startups toward the start of 2020.

How were so many OKR-focused tech upstarts able to raise capital at the same time? And was there really space in the market for so many different startups building software to help other companies manage their goal-setting? OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” a corporate planning method, are no longer a niche concept. But surely, over time, there would be M&A in the group, right?

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

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Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets from Austin to Seattle to Pittsburgh has increased 144% over the last five years.

And the number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast — and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights

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

Almost two centuries ago, gold prospectors in California set off one of the greatest rushes for wealth in history. Proponents of socially conscious investing claim fund managers will start a similar stampede when they discover that environmental, social and governance (ESG) insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data that promise big payoffs — if only they knew how to mine it.

ESG data is everywhere. Learning how to understand it promises big payoffs.

 

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA?

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Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My company is looking to hire a very talented data infrastructure engineer who is undocumented. She has never applied for DACA before.

What is the latest on DACA? What can we do to support her?

—Multicultural in Milpitas

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity

The IPO parade continued this week as India-based food-delivery unicorn Zomato filed to go public. 

The Zomato IPO is incredibly important. As our own Manish Singh reported when the company’s numbers became public, a “successful listing [could be] poised to encourage nearly a dozen other unicorn Indian startups to accelerate their efforts to tap the public markets.”

So, Zomato’s debut is not only notable because its impending listing gives us a look into its economics, but because it could lead to a liquidity rush in the country if its flotation goes well.

Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure

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With the United States moving all-in on massive infrastructure investment, much of the discussion has focused on jobs and building new green industries for the 21st century.

While the Biden administration’s plan will certainly expand the workforce, it also provides a massive opportunity for the adoption of automation technologies within the construction industry.

Despite the common narrative of automating away human jobs, the two are not nearly as much in conflict, especially with new investments creating space for new roles and work.

In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

How to fundraise over Zoom more effectively

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Even though in-person drinks and coffee walks are on the horizon, virtual fundraising isn’t going away.

Now, it’s imperative to ensure your virtual pitch is as effective as your IRL one.

Not only is it more efficient — no expensive trips to San Francisco or trouble fitting investor meetings into one day — virtual fundraising helps democratize access to venture capital.

Hacking my way into analytics: A creative’s journey to design with data

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There’s a growing need for basic data literacy in the tech industry, and it’s only getting more taxing by the year.

Words like “data-driven,” “data-informed” and “data-powered” increasingly litter every tech organization’s product briefs. But where does this data come from?

Who has access to it? How might I start digging into it myself? How might I leverage this data in my day-to-day design once I get my hands on it?

Fintech startups set VC records as the 2021 fundraising market continues to impress

The first three months of the year were the most valuable period for fintech investing, ever.

Where did the fintech venture capital market push the most money in Q1, and why? Let’s dig in.

Healthcare is the next wave of data liberation

Image of a balloon carrying away a brain.

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

Why can we see all our bank, credit card and brokerage data on our phones instantaneously in one app, yet walk into a doctor’s office blind to our healthcare records, diagnoses and prescriptions?

Our health status should be as accessible as our checking account balance.

The liberation of healthcare data is beginning to happen, and it will have a profound impact on society — it will save and extend lives.

What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

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The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt.”

As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game. But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily.

So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

The era of the European insurtech IPO will soon be upon us

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Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.

It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience, and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.

This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits.

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

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The recent movement toward data transparency is bringing about a new era of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data.

What’s the main difference, and how can startups solve these problems?

 

 

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

In the early 2000s, Jeff Bezos gave a seminal TED Talk titled “The Electricity Metaphor for the Web’s Future.” In it, he argued that the internet will enable innovation on the same scale that electricity did.

We are at a similar inflection point in healthcare, with the recent movement toward data transparency birthing a new generation of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data. What’s the main difference?

This sector is still somewhat nascent — we are in the first wave of innovation, with much more to come.

Anonymized data is much more freely available, while personal data is being locked even tighter (as it should be) due to regulations like GDPR, CCPA and their equivalents around the world.

The former trend is enabling a host of new vendors and services that will ultimately make healthcare better and more transparent for all of us.

These new companies could not have existed five years ago. The Affordable Care Act was the first step toward making anonymized data more available. It required healthcare institutions (such as hospitals and healthcare systems) to publish data on costs and outcomes. This included the release of detailed data on providers.

Later legislation required biotech and pharma companies to disclose monies paid to research partners. And every physician in the U.S. is now required to be in the National Practitioner Identifier (NPI), a comprehensive public database of providers.

All of this allowed the creation of new types of companies that give both patients and providers more control over their data. Here are some key examples of how.

Allowing patients to access all their own health data in one place

This is a key capability of patients’ newly found access to health data. Think of how often, as a patient, providers aren’t aware of treatment or a test you’ve had elsewhere. Often you end up repeating a test because a provider doesn’t have a record of a test conducted elsewhere.

What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt,” according to CNN. As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game, with celebrities from Shaquille O’Neal to former House Speaker Paul Ryan leading their own SPACs.

But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily. So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

Despite some warning signs, there are still hundreds of SPACs on the market looking to close deals, and this process can still have plenty of upsides.

SPAC perks

First, the upside of SPACs: They’re a much more efficient way for a private company to go public than a traditional IPO. By merging with a SPAC instead of launching an IPO, a private company can avoid the rigamarole of working with underwriters, hosting roadshows, preparing a prospectus and other complexities of the public filing process.

Furthermore, it can potentially be a fast track into an IPO with a seasoned partner who has experience navigating the process.

There are also big potential financial upsides. For example, stockholders of the private company will often roll over their stock and provide significant cash liquidity. SPACs also offer more certainty about a private company’s valuation than a traditional IPO, and some experts believe that a SPAC can add up to 20% to a company’s sale price compared to a typical private equity transaction.

And, especially when the SPAC market was hot, multiple SPACs could create a bidding war to increase value and generate more favorable terms for a transaction than through the traditional capital markets.

Lastly, partnering with an experienced management team and impressive industry insiders can help a private company accelerate its financial growth and create long-term value.

Warning signs

All these benefits led to a dramatic increase in SPAC transactions in late 2020 and early 2021. But the market cooled substantially in April, in part because of high-profile problems in the market and signs that the SEC will be scrutinizing the entities more closely in the future.

Healthcare is the next wave of data liberation

Why can we see all our bank, credit card and brokerage data on our phones instantaneously in one app, yet walk into a doctor’s office blind to our healthcare records, diagnoses and prescriptions? Our health status should be as accessible as our checking account balance.

The liberation of financial data enabled by startups like Plaid is beginning to happen with healthcare data, which will have an even more profound impact on society; it will save and extend lives. This accessibility is quickly approaching.

As early investors in Quovo and PatientPing, two pioneering companies in financial and healthcare data, respectively, it’s evident to us the winners of the healthcare data transformation will look different than they did with financial data, even as we head toward a similar end state.

For over a decade, government agencies and consumers have pushed for this liberation.

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) gave the first big industry push, catalyzing a wave of digitization through electronic health records (EHR). Today, over 98% of medical records are digitized. This market is dominated by multi‐billion‐dollar vendors like Epic, Cerner and Allscripts, which control 70% of patient records. However, these giant vendors have yet to make these records easily accessible.

A second wave of regulation has begun to address the problem of trapped data to make EHRs more interoperable and valuable. Agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services have mandated data sharing among payers and providers using a common standard, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) protocol.

Image Credits: F-Prime Capital

This push for greater data liquidity coincides with demand from consumers for better information about cost and quality. Employers have been steadily shifting a greater share of healthcare expenses to consumers through high-deductible health plans – from 30% in 2012 to 51% in 2018. As consumers pay for more of the costs, they care more about the value of different health options, yet are unable to make those decisions without real-time access to cost and clinical data.

Image Credits: F-Prime Capital

Tech startups have an opportunity to ease the transmission of healthcare data and address the push of regulation and consumer demands. The lessons from fintech make it tempting to assume that a Plaid for healthcare data would be enough to address all of the challenges within healthcare, but it is not the right model. Plaid’s aggregator model benefited from a relatively high concentration of banks, a limited number of data types and low barriers to data access.

By contrast, healthcare data is scattered across tens of thousands of healthcare providers, stored in multiple data formats and systems per provider, and is rarely accessed by patients directly. Many people log into their bank apps frequently, but few log into their healthcare provider portals, if they even know one exists.

HIPPA regulations and strict patient consent requirements also meaningfully increase friction to data access and sharing. Financial data serves mostly one-to-one use cases, while healthcare data is a many-to-many problem. A single patient’s data is spread across many doctors and facilities and is needed by just as many for care coordination.

Because of this landscape, winning healthcare technology companies will need to build around four propositions:

The gig is up on 21st-century exploitation

Today’s app-based or “gig” economy is frequently dressed up in talk about “modern innovation” and the “21st century of work.” This facade is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Precarious, contingent work is nothing new — we’ve always had jobs that are low-paying, insecure and dismissed as “unskilled.” Due to systemic racism and a historically exploitative economy, workers of color have always been, and continue to be, heavily concentrated in the most exploitative industries.

The only difference is that today, companies like Uber, DoorDash and Instacart claim they don’t have to play by the rules because they use digital apps to manage their workforce. Even as many of these tech giants remain unprofitable, they have been allowed for far too long to shirk responsibility for providing safe and just working conditions where workers can thrive on and off the job.

Even as many of these tech giants remain unprofitable, they have been allowed for far too long to shirk responsibility for providing safe and just working conditions where workers can thrive on and off the job.

Workers’ rights in the so-called gig economy are often positioned as a modern problem. But when we think about the problems faced by gig and app-based workers, who are predominantly people of color, we must learn from the past in order to move forward to a just economy.

The federal government has long failed to address widespread worker exploitation. Since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, jobs like agricultural and domestic work, which were largely performed by workers of color, were carved out of labor rights and protections. The “independent contractors” of today, who are largely workers of color, fall into this same category of workers who have been excluded from labor laws. Combined, Black and Latinx workers make up less than 29% of the nation’s total workforce, but they comprise almost 42% of workers for app-based companies.

Gig companies argue that the drivers, delivery people, independent contractors and other workers who build their businesses, take direction from them and whose pay they set are millions of tiny businesses that do not need baseline benefits and protections. They do this in order to shield themselves from taking responsibility for their frontline workforce. Corporations then avoid paying basic costs like a minimum wage, healthcare, paid sick leave, compensation coverage and a litany of other essential benefits for their employees. For many workers, these conditions only serve to proliferate inequality nationwide and ultimately uphold a deeply flawed economy built upon worker exploitation and suffering.

App-based companies are the face of a larger, sinister trend. Over the last four decades, federal policies have greatly eroded the bargaining power of workers and concentrated more power in the hands of corporations and those who already have substantial wealth and power. This has perpetuated and worsened the racial wage and wealth gaps and contributed to the ever-increasing degradation of working conditions for too many.

It’s clear that, in order to build an economy that works for all people, “gig” and app-based companies cannot be allowed to exploit their workers under the guise of “innovation.” These companies claim their workers want to remain independent contractors, but what workers want is good pay, job security, flexibility and full rights under federal laws. This is a reasonable and just demand — and necessary to close generational gender and racial wealth gaps.

App-based companies are pouring significant resources into promoting government policies that prop up their worker exploitation model. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash Instacart and other app-based companies are loudly peddling misinformation in state legislatures, city councils and federal offices. Elected leaders at all levels need to recognize these policies for what they are — corporate efforts to rewrite the laws to benefit them — and reject the corporate interests behind the policies that carve out workers from universal protections.

Congress must also reject exclusions that lock people of color out of basic employment protections and pass legislation to extend protections to all workers, including app-based workers. The PRO Act is a great first step, which extends bargaining protections to workers who have been wrongly classified as “independent contractors” by their employers.

Across the country, app-based workers have organized to protect their health and safety and demand that their rights as workers be recognized and protected. Elected leaders cannot keep falling for corporate propaganda claiming a “21st-century” model. Work in the 21st century is still work; work that is organized on an app is still work.

We call on Congress to recognize the labor rights and protections of all workers and act boldly to ensure that app-based companies cannot block workers from equal rights in the name of “flexibility” and “innovation.”

How to fundraise over Zoom more effectively

I was a first-time CEO who had just finished Techstars with my co-founders when the pandemic hit last March. I remember sitting alone in my basement room in Boulder, Colorado, in sweatpants, while connecting with my advisers. They confirmed my biggest fear: I had just three months of runway left in the bank.

It was every founder’s nightmare around that time: I’d be forced to fundraise amid a global pandemic.

Of course, venture capital investors weren’t taking in-person meetings then, which meant pitching over Zoom. As opposed to late-night drinks, coffee chats while strolling along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and Sand Hill boardroom meetings (environments where I thought I could excel), I was stuck in a basement.

Whether I asked friends, mentors or Google, no one seemed to have any good tips for connecting with investors virtually. But I learned as I went, adopting new technology to assist in the VC fundraising process, and we were able to close a $2.1 million seed round in August. Phew.

While we might have thought virtual fundraising would impossible when the world shut down one year ago, I don’t think anyone believes that anymore. Not only is it more efficient — no expensive trips to San Francisco or trouble fitting investor meetings into one day — virtual fundraising helps democratize access to venture capital.

Founders can raise money from investors based anywhere in the world, and investors can consider startups from anywhere, too. My investors today are from California, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and the U.K. And so far, I haven’t met a single one of them in person.

Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure

With the United States moving all-in on massive infrastructure investment, much of the discussion has focused on jobs and building new green industries for the 21st century. While the Biden administration’s plan will certainly expand the workforce, it also provides a massive opportunity for the adoption of automation technologies within the construction industry.

Despite the common narrative of automating away human jobs, the two are not nearly as much in conflict, especially with new investments creating space for new roles and work. In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

The residential construction industry alone had some 223,000 and 332,000 unfilled construction job vacancies at the peak unemployment rate of 15% in 2020, but that’s actually about the same when unemployment was only at 4.1%. Between 1985 and 2015, the average age of construction workers increased from 36 to 42.5, while those aged 55 and older increased from 12% to over 20%. The 2018 Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that workers under 25 comprised just 9% of the construction industry, compared to 12.3% of the overall U.S. labor force.

Productivity in the construction industry has likewise remained static since 1995, primarily driven by the aging demographic of the existing labor force, the apprenticeship nature of the job, and difficulty in attracting and retaining new workers. In short, there is insufficient labor to do the job, while existing staff are becoming increasingly less productive as skilled workers that have accumulated decades of experience in their crafts are lost due to retirement.

Automation will need to be a key element of any major infrastructure push, especially if we hope to meet the ambitious goals of current proposals. That being said, not all areas of the construction industry are primed, or even viable, for this shift to automation.

The challenges of construction automation

Construction is one of the world’s largest industries but has two major challenges: market fragmentation and complex stakeholders.

The construction industry as a whole is nationally fragmented but occasionally locally concentrated. This differs depending on the segment and type of construction company, with each generally comprising less than 10 workers. The top 100 general contractors account for less than 20% of the total construction market. Subcontractors are even more fragmented, with top players accounting for less than 1% of the total market share. This makes sales processes and scaling very slow and highly inefficient.