Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang: CEO coaching is ‘about having a second set of eyes’

Earlier this month, Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, where he spoke about executive coaching and why he encourages founders in his portfolio to have a CEO coach. Wang, who has an executive coach himself, sees coaching as a key way to drive sustained personal growth, a factor that he believes separates the middling CEOs from the best ones.

Why CEOs need coaching

Just like professional athletes at the top of their game still need coaching, executives can need external validation and comment on where they are and aren’t delivering, Wang says. These insights can be tough for executives to catch on their own and might require a level of honesty that can be challenging for a CEO to expect from anyone involved with their company.

Roger Federer — the famous tennis player who has won 20 Grand Slam events — he has a coach, but he doesn’t just have a coach, he has a coach for tennis. I’m pretty sure Roger knows the rules of the game and all the different strokes he needs to hit, so why would he have a coach? The answer is really that it’s about having a second set of eyes; when you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself. (Timestamp: 4:52)

Coaches can help entrepreneurs reflect and reframe the things being communicated with them.

A good example — you might be at a board meeting and one of your board members is being critical of your VP of marketing, and one way to think of that is “Oh, OK, here are some things we need to solve for this person,” but another point of view that a coach might open your eyes to, is actually maybe this person thinks you’re not hiring the right people. (Timestamp: 8:59)

While advisers can help startups navigate tactical situations, therapists may be more focused on helping clients navigate emotional states and improve themselves. Coaching exists in a very nebulous gray area between startup advisers and licensed therapists, Wang says, but coaching is more focused on improving yourself as a business leader rather than solving a particularly vexing startup issue.

When you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself.

Greylock’s Mike Duboe explains how to define growth and build your team

With more venture funding flowing into the startup ecosystem than ever before, there’s never been a better time to be a growth expert.

At TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising earlier this month, Greylock Partners’ Mike Duboe dug into a number of lessons and pieces of wisdom he’s picked up leading growth at a number of high-growth startups, including StitchFix. His advice spanned hiring, structure and analysis, with plenty of recommendations for where growth teams should be focusing their attention and resources.

How to define growth

Before Duboe’s presentation kicked off, he spent some time zeroing in on a definition of growth, which he cautioned can mean many different things at many different companies. Being so context-dependent means that “being good at growth” is more dependent on honing capabilities rather than following a list of best practices.

Growth is something that’s blatantly obvious and poorly defined in the startup world, so I do think it’s important to give a preamble to all of this stuff. First and foremost, growth is very context dependent; some teams treat it as a product function, others marketing, some sales or “other.” Some companies will do growth with a dedicated growth team; others have abandoned the team but still do it equally well. Some companies will goal growth teams purely on acquisition, others will deploy them against retention or other metrics. So, taking a step back from that, I define growth as a function that accelerates a company’s pace of learning.

Growth is everyone’s job; if a bunch of people in the company are working on one problem, and it’s just someone off in the corner working on growth, you probably failed at setting up the org correctly.  (Timestamp: 1:11)

While growth is good, growing something that is unsustainable is an intense waste of time and money. Head of growth is often an early role that founders aim to fill, but Duboe cautioned early-stage entrepreneurs from focusing too heavily on growth before nailing the fundamentals.

I’ve seen many companies make the mistake of working on growth prior to nailing product-market fit. I think this mistake becomes even more common in an environment where there’s rampant VC funding, so while some of the discipline here is useful early on, I’d really encourage founders to be laser-focused on finding that fit before iterating on growth. (Timestamp: 2:29)

Where to focus growth energy

The bulk of Duboe’s presentation focused on laying out 10 of the “most poignant and generalizable” lessons in growth that he’s learned over the years, with lessons on focus, optimization and reflection.

Lesson 1: Distill your growth model (“business equation”)

Growth modeling and metric design — I view as the most fundamental part of growth. This does not require a growth team so any good head of growth should require some basic growth model to prioritize what to work on. (Timestamp: 3:09)

The first point Duboe touched on was one on how to visualize your growth opportunities using models, using an example from his past role leading growth at Tilt, where his team used user state models to determine where to direct resources and look for growth opportunities.

Lesson 2: Retention before acquisition

The second lesson is to prioritize retention before driving acquisition, a very obvious or intuitive lesson, but it’s also easy to forget given it’s typically less straightforward to figure out how to retain users versus acquiring new ones. (Timestamp: 4:19)

Retention is typically cheaper than acquiring wholly new users, Duboe noted, also highlighting how a startup focusing on retention can help them understand more about who their power users are and who exactly they should be building for.

Lesson 3: Embrace ideas from all corners, but triage

Bringing on new ideas is obviously a positive, but often ideas need guidelines to be helpful, and setting the right templates early on can help team members filter down their ideas while ensuring they meet the need of the organization.

DraftKings shares plans for launch of NFT collectibles marketplace

DraftKings is charging into the NFT game, announcing a marketplace aimed at curating sports and entertainment-themed digital collectibles for its audience of enthusiasts. The platform is “debuting later this summer,” and showcases another potentially lucrative expansion for the fantasy sports betting company.

DraftKings is entering a market that is both crowded and sparse — with plenty of NFT marketplace options for today’s niche group of collectors, though offerings are still light when considering the billions that have flowed through the space in the first several months of the year. This week, investors gave NFT marketplace OpenSea a $1.5 billion valuation. Dapper Labs, which makes NBA Top Shot, recently raised at a reported $7.5 billion valuation.

Dapper’s existing sway in the space will leave DraftKings pursuing opportunities outside exclusive league partnerships. NBA Top Shot allows players to buy “Moments” from NBA history, clips of actual game and player footage to which it has access via league and players’ association partnerships. In addition to the NBA, Dapper has already partnered with other leagues.

DraftKings’ foothold in the space will come from an exclusive partnership with Autograph, a newly launched NFT startup co-founded by quarterback Tom Brady. The company has inked exclusive NFT deals with some top athletes, including Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka and Tony Hawk, hoping to build out its platform as the hub for sports personality collectibles.

Aside from the partnerships, DraftKings is hoping to get a leg up in the space by further simplifying the user onboarding process, allowing users to buy NFTs without loading a wallet with cryptocurrency, instead purchasing with USD. When the platform launches, users will be able to purchase NFTs from DraftKings and resell or trade them through the platform.

For DraftKings, which has raised some $720 million in funding since launch in 2012, the NFT expansion could offer an opportunity of funneling their existing audience into the new vertical. Few existing tech startups have made noteworthy expansions into the NFT world despite plenty of hype and investor interest. DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish tells TechCrunch that the startup’s devoted community is its biggest asset to winning in the rising space.

“DraftKings has millions of people in our community who show up to out-platform every day and every week,” Kalish says. “We think our biggest advantage is the strength and size of our community… [We] will bring a lot of eyeballs to the table.”

Okendo raises $5.3M to help D2C brands ween themselves off of Big Tech customer data

While direct-to-consumer growth has exploded in the past year, some brands are finding there’s still plenty of room to forge ahead in building a more direct relationships with their customers.

Sydney-based Okendo has made a splash in this world by building out a popular customer reviews systems for Shopify sellers, but it’s aiming to expand its ambitions and tackle a much bigger problem with its first outside funding — helping brands scale the quality of their first-party data and loosen their reliance on tech advertising kingpins for customer acquisition and engagement.

“Most D2C brands are still very dependent on big tech,” CEO Matthew Goodman tells TechCrunch.

Gathering more customer reviews data directly from consumers has been the first part of the puzzle with its product that helps brands manage and showcase customer ratings, reviews, user-generated media and product questions. Moving forward Okendo is looking to help firms manage more of the web of cross-channel customer data they have, standardizing it and allowing them to give customers a more personalized experience when they shop with them.

via Okendo

“Merchants have goals and want to better understand their customers,” Goodman says. “As soon as a brand reaches a certain level of scale they’re dealing with unwieldy data.”

Goodman says that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature and Google’s pledge to end third-party cookie tracking has pushed some brands to get more serious about scaling their own data sets to insulate themselves from any sudden movements.

The company needs more coin in its coffers to take on the challenge, raising their first bout of funding since launching back in 2018. They’ve raised $5.3 million in seed funding led by Index Ventures. 2020 was a big growth year for the startup as e-commerce spending surged and sellers looked more thoughtfully at how they were scaling. The company tripled its ARR during the year and doubled its headcount. The bootstrapped company was profitable at the time of the raise, Goodman says.

Today, the company boasts more than 3,500 D2C brands in the Shopify network as customers, including heavyweights like Netflix, Lego, Skims, Fanjoy and Crunchyroll. The startup is tight-lipped on what their next product launches will look like, but plans to jump into two new areas in the next 12 months, Goodman says.

NFT market OpenSea hits $1.5 billion valuation

It’s been a wild 2021 for NFT auction marketplace OpenSea. The startup was exceedingly well-positioned in a niche space when NFTs exploded earlier this year seemingly out of nowhere. Since then, the startup has found its user base expanding, the total volume of sales skyrocketing and more investor dollars being thrown at them.

The startup announced in March, it had closed a $23 million Series A, and now some four months later, the company tells TechCrunch it has raised another $100 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz at a $1.5 billion valuation. Other investors in the round include Coatue, CAA, Michael Ovitz, Kevin Hartz, Kevin Durant and Ashton Kutcher.

Despite a fall from stratospheric heights in the early summer, the broader NFT market has still been chugging along and OpenSea is continuing to see plenty of action. The startup saw $160 million in sales last month and is on track to blow past that figure this month, CEO Devin Finzer tells TechCrunch.

One of the company’s clearer growth roadblocks has been infrastructure issues native to the Ethereum blockchain that its marketplace has been built around. The Ethereum blockchain, which has a number of network upgrades outstanding, has struggled to keep up with the NFT boom at times, leaving users footing the bill with occasionally pricey “gas” fees needed to mint an item or make a transaction. Though these fees have largely cooled down in recent weeks, OpenSea is aiming to make a move towards long-term scalability by announcing that they plan to bring support for several more blockchains to its platform.

They’re starting with Polygon, a popular Layer 2 Ethereum blockchain which boasts a more energy-efficient structure that will allow OpenSea to entirely eliminate gas fees for creators, buyers and sellers on that blockchain. Losing these fees may give OpenSea a better shot at expanding its ambitions, which include finding a future for NFTs in the gaming world and in the events space, Finzer says.

Beyond Polygon, OpenSea has plans to integrate with Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain as well as Tezos down the road, the company says.

Operating across multiple blockchains could create some headaches for consumers operating across platforms with differing levels of support for each network. Some NFT investors are also more hesitant to buy items on blockchains they see as less time-tested than Ethereum, worrying that newer chains may lose support over time. But overall, the user-friendly changes will likely be well-received by the wider NFT community which has seen the explosion in new interest stress-test its systems and highlight need for user interface and user experience improvements.

Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou is coming to Disrupt

If you spent any time this year desperately trying to figure out what the heck NFTs are, you probably have Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou to thank for that.

His startup’s crypto trading card marketplace NBA Top Shot went viral earlier this year with users dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on digital NBA collectibles. At the end of last year, the Top Shot platform was averaging around $20K-30K in digital collectibles sales volume per day. By late February, the platform hit an all-time-high, moving more than $45 million in trading volume, according to analytics site Cryptoslam, as a wave of crypto newbies descended on the platform.

Within months, Gharegozlou’s company went from a niche crypto gaming startup largely known to industry insiders to locking in a hulking reported $7.5 billion valuation as venture capitalists chased the opportunity to get a piece of it.

Top Shot’s sudden popularity triggered a massive moment for NFTs, with billions of dollars moving through an asset class that few had heard of months prior. We’re thrilled to have Gharegozlou joining us at Disrupt this September 21-23, to discuss the future of NFTs, crypto gaming and the decentralized internet.

NBA Top Shot was an industry anomaly, but it wasn’t even Dapper’s first industry-shaking hit. In 2017, CryptoKitties — another trading game where users could swap digital cats — caught on among early adopters and brought the nascent Ethereum network to a crawl, inspiring the developers of the popular blockchain to make a number of key changes over time. Gharegozlou has his own vision for the future of the crypto web; Dapper’s big bet of late is on the proprietary Flow blockchain that underpins Top Shot. The company is gunning to bring more gaming platforms onboard to take advantage of the faster, more energy-efficient blockchain network, and investors are betting hundreds of millions of dollars on their ability to capture the market.

With the larger NFT market’s sales volume sliding significantly in recent months, can it make a comeback? Will developers move away from the popular Ethereum blockchain to embrace Dapper’s more centralized network? Could NFTs reshape the entire online economy? We’re excited to dig into some of these questions with Gharegozlou onstage at Disrupt — it’s a session you won’t want to miss.

Join him and more than 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23Get your pass to attend now for less than $99 for a limited time!

 

Crypto startup Phantom banks funding from Andreessen Horowitz to scale its multichain wallet

While retail investors grew more comfortable buying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2021, the decentralized application world still has a lot of work to do when it comes to onboarding a mainstream user base.

Phantom is part of a new class of crypto startups looking to build infrastructure that streamlines blockchain-based applications and provides a more user-friendly UX for navigating the crypto world, something that can make the entire space more approachable to a non-developer audience. Users can download the Phantom wallet to their browsers to interact with applications, swap tokens and collect NFTs.

The crypto wallet startup has banked a $9 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), with Variant Fund, Jump Capital, DeFi Alliance, Solana Foundation and Garry Tan also participating. The round, which closed earlier this summer, comes as some venture capital firms embrace a crypto future even as volatility continues to envelop the broader market. Last month, a16z announced a whopping 2.2 billion crypto fund, the firm’s largest vertical-specific investment vehicle ever.

Image via Phantom

The co-founding team of CEO Brandon Millman, CPO Chris Kalani and CEO Francesco Agosti all come aboard from crypto infrastructure startup 0x.

At the moment, Phantom is best-known among the Solana community, where it has become the go-to wallet for applications on that blockchain. The startup’s ambition is to interface with more and more networks, currently building out compatibility with Ethereum and looking to embrace other blockchains, aiming to be a product built for a “multichain world,” Millman tells TechCrunch.

Alongside building out support for other networks, Phantom wants to build more sophisticated DeFi mechanisms right into their wallet, allowing users to stake cryptocurrencies and swap more tokens inside the wallet.

The startup says they have some 40,000 users of their existing wallet product.

Building out a presence on the popular Ethereum blockchain, which already has a handful of popular wallet providers, will be a challenge, but Phantom’s broadest challenge is helping a new breed of crypto-curious users interface with a network of apps that still have a long way to go when it comes to being mainstream-friendly.

“The entire space is kind of stuck in this ‘built by developers for other developers mode,’ ” Millman says. “This bar has been kind of stuck there, and no one is really stepping up to push the bar up higher.”

FlyMachine raises $21 million to build a virtual concerts platform for a post-pandemic world

As concerts and live events return to the physical world stateside, many in the tech industry have wondered whether some of the pandemic-era opportunities around virtualizing these events are lost for the time being.

San Francisco-based FlyMachine is aiming to seek out the holy grail of the digital music industry, finding a way to capture some of the magic of live concerts and performances in a live-streamed setting. The startup hopes that pandemic era consumer habits around video chat socialization combined with an industry in need of digital diversification can push their flavor of virtual concerts into the lives of music fans.

The startup’s ambitions aren’t cheap, FlyMachine tells TechCrunch it has raised $21 million in investor funding to bankroll its plans. The funding has been led by Greycroft Partners and SignalFire, with additional participation from Primary Venture Partners, Contour Venture Partners, Red Sea Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank.

The virtual concert industry didn’t have as big of a lockdown moment as some hoped for. Spotify experimented with virtual events. Meanwhile, startups like Wave raised huge bouts of VC funding to turn real performers into digital avatars in a bid to create more digital-native concerts. And while some smaller artists embraced shows over Zoom or worked with startups like Oda who created live concert subscriptions, there were few mainstream hits among bigger acts.

To make FlyMachine’s brand of virtual concerts a thing, the startup isn’t trying to convert potential in-person attendees of a show into virtual participants, instead hoping to create an attractive experience for the folks who would normally have to skip the show. Whether those virtual attendees were too far from a venue, couldn’t get a babysitter for the night, or just aren’t jazzed about a mosh pit scene anymore, FlyMachine is hoping there are enough potential attendees on the bubble to sustain the startup as they try to blur the lines between “a night in and a night out,” CEO Andrew Dreskin says.

The startup’s strategy centers on building up partnerships with name brand concert venues around the US — Bowery Ballroom in New York City, Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, The Crocodile in Seattle, Marathon Music Works in Nashville and Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, among them — and live-streaming some of the shows at those venues to at-home audiences. FlyMachine’s team has deep roots in the music industry, Dreskin founded Ticketfly (acquired by Pandora) while co-founder Rick Farman is also the co-founder of Superfly which puts on the Bonnaroo and Outside Lands music festivals.

In terms of actual experience — and I had the chance to experience one of the shows before writing this — FlyMachine has done their best to recreate the experience of shouting over the tunes to talk with your buddies nearby. In FlyMachine’s world this is attending the show in a “private room” with your other friends live-streaming in video chat bubbles from their homes. It’s well-done and doesn’t distract too much from the actual concert, but you can adjust the sound levels of your friends and the music when the time calls for it.

FlyMachine’s platform launch earlier this year, arriving as many Americans have been vaccinated and many concert-goers are preparing to return to normal, might have been considered a bit late to the moment, but the founding team sees a long-term opportunity that COVID only further highlighted.

“We weren’t in a mad dash to get the product out the door while people were sequestered in their homes because we knew this would be part of the fabric of society going forward,” Dreskin tells TechCrunch.

Nas Academy raises $11 million to help creators build their own MasterClass-like courses

Investors are buying into a creator-led future, and Nas Academy wants to turn that creator influence into a broad network of “virtual universities.”

The Singapore startup is building out a platform for creators to monetize their knowledge, giving them the tools to create their own classes and academies that fans can attend online. The platform is founded and led by Nuseir Yassin, a video blogger and influencer whose Nas Daily social media accounts boast tens of millions of followers across platforms.

Nas Academy has closed an $11 million Series A led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with additional backing from Balaji Srinivasan, Emilie Choi, TechAviv Founder Partners, Visioneer Holdings, 500 Startups and Metapurse, among others.

The platform can help creators build on-demand class portfolios or live courses, while the marketplace allows users to navigate and shop around for courses that appeal to them. Yassin hopes the platform can bring some predictability to consumers who are interested in signing up for online courses, but are wary of scams and half-baked offerings. “This market needs to have some trusted brands and quality assurances,” he says.

At the moment, a good chunk of the courses skew towards the business of online influence, with classes on video editing, content marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also a pretty wide range of price points with costs for courses live on the platform now ranging from $29 to $499. Users can also pay for a bundle of courses, and Yassin says the platform has plans for a subscription offering down the road.

Nas Academy will monetize by taking a cut of these revenues, which may vary a bit, especially right now as the platform is invite-only for creators. As the platform opens up further, Yassin wants it to be a way for creators to find new audiences too. Course operators will have access to emails of their audience and be able to reach out to them directly outside the platform if they so desire.

Investors have been increasingly signing on to back startups building products in the creator economy vertical, especially in the past year. Creator platform Patreon recently raised at a $4 billion valuation. Yassin sees a massive opportunity in not only facilitating closer relationships between creators and fans but serving as an on-ramp for aspiring creators coming to their platform to learn.

“We think there are another 100,000 creators who will never get asked to make a Masterclass,” Yassin tells TechCrunch. “Internet skills are low in supply and high in demand.”

End-to-end moving startup Updater buys on-demand moving startup Dolly

Moving services giant Updater is bringing on the team from Dolly as the New York company looks to expand its scope of offerings with the acquisition of the on-demand startup known for helping consumers execute small-scale moves.

Dolly connects users in need of moving a large item like a piece of furniture with a contractor ready to lend a hand. Like competing services such as Lugg, the app has been a popular solution for picking up items from peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist. Dolly boasts a partnership with Facebook Marketplace that has allowed its users to coordinate picking up items with the service, available in 45 major cities across the US, according to their website.

In addition to its user-facing service, Dolly has also built a major business partnering with retailers directly allowing them to tap into their mover network and coordinate same-day delivery for customers. Dolly’s retail partners include companies like Costco, Lowe’s and The Container Store.

A price tag for the deal wasn’t disclosed and couldn’t be learned. Dolly raised $17.2 million over several rounds, including a $7.5 million Series B in May of 2019. The startup’s backers include Maveron, Hyde Park Venture Partners and Version One Ventures.

As part of the acquisition, Dolly will be living on an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of Updater.

The SoftBank-backed Updater is an “invite-only” service focused on building a more premium end-to-end moving experience. The team has partnered with a number of major brokerage firms whose customers are given the option to use Updater’s services to coordinate their move, pairing them with moving companies who use Updater’s MoveHQ software platform. Today, a quarter of US household moves are facilitated using one of Updater’s products, the company says.

The firm has raised nearly $200 million since its founding in 2010. Dolly’s acquisition will allow Updater to expand their services to customers that are “conducting a small move or don’t want to book a full-service moving company,” CEO David Greenberg tells TechCrunch. “We want to be the go-to place for Americans to conquer their move.”