Seed is not the new Series A

The incredible success of the cloud business applications space in recent years has driven up valuations and fundraising across all stages of venture investment. That has in turn increased VC fund sizes, led to massive cloud IPOs and brought a new cadre of investors to further fuel the fire.

The median Series A raised by cloud companies these days is about $8 million and can often go well above $10 million, according to PitchBook data from the first quarter of 2021. Series Cs now routinely include secondary capital for founders, and many Series Ds are above $100 million with valuations in the billions.

There is a widening gap in the funding continuum between angel/seed funding at inception and the new-age $10 million Series A at $2 million in ARR.

Such an influx of capital and interest has upended many structures and long-held norms about how startups are funded. Venture funds continue to grow and must write larger checks, but ever-higher valuations force many firms to hunt for opportunities earlier. The VC alphabet soup has been spilled, making A rounds look like Bs used to, and the Bs seem like the Cs of old.

Which begs an interesting question: Is the seed round the new Series A?

We don’t think so.

Seed rounds have certainly grown — averaging about $3 million nowadays from around $1 million to $2 million previously — but otherwise, seed investments are the same as before and remain very different from Series As.

Extra Crunch roundup: influencer marketing 101, spotting future unicorns, Apple AirTags teardown

With the right message, even a small startup can connect with established and emerging stars on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube who will promote your products and services — as long as your marketing team understands the influencer marketplace.

Creators have a wide variety of brands and revenue channels to choose from, but marketers who understand how to court these influencers can make inroads no matter the size of their budget. Although brand partnerships are still the top source of revenue for creators, many are starting to diversify.

If you’re in charge of marketing at an early-stage startup, this post explains how to connect with an influencer who authentically resonates with your brand and covers the basics of setting up a revenue-share structure that works for everyone.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


Our upcoming TC Early Stage event is devoted to marketing and fundraising, so expect to see more articles than usual about growth marketing in the near future.

We also ran a post this week with tips for making the first marketing hire, and Managing Editor Eric Eldon spoke to growth leader Susan Su to get her thoughts about building remote marketing teams.

We’re off today to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday in the United States. I hope you have a safe and relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

As the economy reopens, startups are uniquely positioned to recruit talent

Little Fish in Form of Big Fish meeting a fish.

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

The pandemic forced a reckoning about the way we work — and whether we want to keep working in the same way, with the same people, for the same company — and many are looking for something different on the other side.

Art Zeile, the CEO of DHI Group, notes this means it’s a great time for startups to recruit talent.

“While all startups are certainly not focused on being disruptive, they often rely on cutting-edge technology and processes to give their customers something truly new,” Zeile writes. “Many are trying to change the pattern in their particular industry. So, by definition, they generally have a really interesting mission or purpose that may be more appealing to tech professionals.”

Here are four considerations for high-growth company founders building their post-pandemic team.

Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson-Roberson on finding the middle path to robotic delivery

Matthew Johnson-roberson

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“Refraction AI calls itself the Goldilocks of robotic delivery,” Rebecca Bellan writes. “The Ann Arbor-based company … was founded by two University of Michigan professors who think delivery via full-size autonomous vehicles (AV) is not nearly as close as many promise, and sidewalk delivery comes with too many hassles and not enough payoff.

“Their ‘just right’ solution? Find a middle path, or rather, a bike path.”

Rebecca sat down with the company’s CEO to discuss his motivation to make “something that is useful to the general public.”

How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

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

What are investors looking for?

Founders often tie themselves in knots as they try to project qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.

“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on day one,” Brenner, writes “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Founders Ben Schippers and Evette Ellis are riding the EV sales wave

disrupt mobility roundup

Image Credits: TechCrunch

EV sales are driving demand for services and startups that fulfill the new needs of drivers, charging station operators and others.
Evette Ellis and Ben Schippers took to the main stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to share how their companies capitalized on the new opportunities presented by the electric transportation revolution.

Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough

Image Credits: Alexandr Wang

Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding.

Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.

Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why.

Edtech investors are flocking to SaaS guidance counselors

Image Credits: Getty Images / Vertigo3d

The prevailing post-pandemic edtech narrative, which predicted higher ed would be DOA as soon as everyone got their vaccine and took off for a gap year, might not be quite true.

Natasha Mascarenhas explores a new crop of edtech SaaS startups that function like guidance counselors, helping students with everything from study-abroad opportunities to swiping right on a captivating college (really!).

“Startups that help students navigate institutional bureaucracy so they can get more value out of their educational experience may become a growing focus for investors as consumer demand for virtual personalized learning increases,” she writes.

Dear Sophie: Is it possible to expand our startup in the US?

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

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My co-founders and I launched a software startup in Iran a few years ago, and I’m happy to say it’s now thriving. We’d like to expand our company in California.

Now that President Joe Biden has eliminated the Muslim ban, is it possible to do that? Is the pandemic still standing in the way? Do you have any suggestions?

— Talented in Tehran

Companies should utilize real-time compensation data to ensure equal pay

Two women observing data to represent collecting data to ensure pay equity.

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

Chris Jackson, the vice president of client development at CompTrak, writes in a guest column that having a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and “agreeing on the need for equality doesn’t mean it will be achieved on an organizational scale.”

He lays out a data-driven proposal that brings in everyone from directors to HR to the talent acquisition team to get companies closer to actual equity — not just talking about it.

Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt on SPACs, micromobility and how COVID-19 shaped VC

tc sessions mobility speaker_investorpanel-1

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Few people are more closely tapped into the innovations in the transportation space than investors.

They’re paying close attention to what startups and tech companies are doing to develop and commercialize autonomous vehicle technology, electrification, micromobility, robotics and so much more.

For TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we talked to three VCs about everything from the pandemic to the most overlooked opportunities within the transportation space.

Experts from Ford, Toyota and Hyundai outline why automakers are pouring money into robotics

disrupt mobility roundup

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Automakers’ interest in robotics is not a new phenomenon, of course: Robots and automation have long played a role in manufacturing and are both clearly central to their push into AVs.

But recently, many companies are going even deeper into the field, with plans to be involved in the wide spectrum of categories that robotics touch.

At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we spoke to a trio of experts at three major automakers about their companies’ unique approaches to robotics.

Apple AirTags UX teardown: The trade-off between privacy and user experience

Image Credits: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Apple’s location devices — called AirTags — have been out for more than a month now. The initial impressions were good, but as we concluded back in April: “It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild.”

That’s exactly what our resident UX analyst, Peter Ramsey, has been doing for the last month — intentionally losing AirTags to test their user experience at the limits.

This Extra Crunch exclusive helps bridge the gap between Apple’s mistakes and how you can make meaningful changes to your product’s UX.

 

How to launch a successful RPA initiative

3D illustration of robot humanoid reading book in concept of future artificial intelligence and 4th fourth industrial revolution . (3D illustration of robot humanoid reading book in concept of future artificial intelligence and 4th fourth industrial r

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

Robotic process automation (RPA) is no longer in the early-adopter phase.

Though it requires buy-in from across the organization, contributor Kevin Buckley writes, it’s time to gather everyone around and get to work.

“Automating just basic workflow processes has resulted in such tremendous efficiency improvements and cost savings that businesses are adapting automation at scale and across the enterprise,” he writes.

Long story short: “Adapting business automation for the enterprise should be approached as a business solution that happens to require some technical support.”

Mobility startups can be equitable, accessible and profitable

tc sessions

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Mobility should be a right, but too often it’s a privilege. Can startups provide the technology and the systems necessary to help correct this injustice?

At  our TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, we sat down with Revel CEO and co-founder Frank Reig, Remix CEO and co-founder Tiffany Chu, and community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler to discuss how mobility companies should think about equity, why incorporating it from the get-go will save money in the long run, and how they can partner with cities to expand accessible and sustainable mobility.

CEO Shishir Mehrotra and investor S. Somasegar reveal what sings in Coda’s pitch doc

Image Credits: Carlin Ma / Madrona Venture Group/Brian Smale

Coda CEO Shishir Mehrotra and Madrona partner S. Somasegar joined Extra Crunch Live to go through Coda’s pitch doc (not deck. Doc) and stuck around for the ECL Pitch-off, where founders in the audience come “onstage” to pitch their products to our guests.

Extra Crunch Live takes place every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT/noon PDT. Anyone can hang out during the episode (which includes networking with other attendees), but access to past episodes is reserved exclusively for Extra Crunch members. Join here.

Hydrosat raises $5M seed round to deliver ground temperature data to customers

A lot of information can be gleaned about a surface area just by taking the ground temperature data. If a crop field is under stress, for example, the ground temperature will be elevated long before there’s any actual indication of the stress on the plant itself, Hydrosat CEO and co-founder Pieter Fossel explained to TechCrunch. Now, with a new $5 million injection in seed funding, he hopes to launch Hydrosat’s first surface temperature analytics product for customers.

The seed round was led by Cultivation Capital’s newly launched Geospatial Technologies Fund with participation by Freeflow Ventures, the Yield Lab, Expon Capital, Techstars, Industrious Ventures, Synovia Capital, and the University of Michigan.

The geospatial data analytics startup, which started at the end of 2017, plans to gather surface temperature data using satellites equipped with thermal infrared sensors. Beyond agricultural data, surface temperature can also provide information about wildfire risk, water stress and drought – all important variables if you believe, as Fossel does, that climate change is already starting to exert forces on the planet.

While ground temperature data is collected by legacy institutions like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), it’s not gathered at a very high frequency – sometimes a specific location’s ground temperature is only read every 16 days or so – or at a high resolution. Hydrosat hopes to fill in those existing data gaps. The company also collects data on other bands, using a multispectral infrared camera, but its primary value proposition is in its thermal data.

The first satellite will head to low-Earth orbit with Loft Orbital on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of 2022. That mission is named after Hydrosat’s former CEO, Jakob van Zyl, who passed away from heart attack about a year ago. Although the launches add a certain flair, Fossel stressed that the company is “a content company and a data company first.”

“We’re also developing some applications that sit on top of that [surface temperature] product that are geared towards crop yield forecasting, drought detection, and irrigation management,” he said. “Because these are all fundamentally driven by water stress and all of those applications are fundamentally enabled by our core product, which is land surface temperature data.”

Hydrosat’s first customers have been governments, in the form of a contract with the ESA and three SBIR contracts with the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense. But through the raise, the company can start to deliver its product to commercial customers, who may include agribusinesses, insurance companies, and even other companies that want to do analytics on top of its collection of ground surface data.

“[Hydrosat] will probably start in agriculture, which is our core focus, but it could branch out across industries, because temperature is a signal of a whole host of activities beyond our focus, which is environment, water, stress, food,” he explained. “Temperature is also a signal of economic activity. There’s a lot of cool use cases for temperature, from kind of a defense and security standpoint, as well.”

Looking to the future, Hydrosat has plans to launch a 16-satellite constellation to enable global monitoring. But that’s only the medium-term focus, Fossel said. The company’s long-term plans could include launching additional satellites, adding additional bands to deepen its data offerings, or building out its analytics layer. “Beyond that, it’s really about providing the underlying data that enables some of these applications in drought, food security, water stress, wildfire, and defense and security,” he added.

Carlyle acquires 1E.com, an endpoint and hybrid working specialist, in $270M deal

Remote work was the order of the day for the past 16 months, but as we (fingers crossed) move out of the pandemic, it’s looking like a lot of people may move into a new era of hybrid work: less focus being present in offices to feel like you are getting things done, less time commuting, and more time to be productive. To help better address that opportunity, a company called 1e, which builds solutions for companies to enable hybrid working along with managing the wider space of endpoint management, has been acquired by Carlyle on the heels of a strong year of business.

The private equity firm has picked up the London-based company in a $270 million deal.

The acquisition is coming in the form of a majority stake with CEO and co-founder Sumir Karayi maintaining a significant minority stake, along with employees of the company. The firm is completely bootstrapped — no outside investors, no VCs on the cap table prior to this deal — and profitable, with growth of 28% in the last year.

The birth and now exit of 1e is an interesting counterpoint to that of most of the enterprise startups that you will read about on the pages of TechCrunch, or maybe in tech press overall.

The company was started in 1997 when Karayi and co-founders Phil Wilcock and Mark Blackburn were at Microsoft working as in-house consultants helping enterprises adopt and adapt to Microsoft software. Karayi decided he wanted to start something of his own, rather than, in his words, “working for Microsoft forever.”

Given his background, his business started first as a consultancy, but he said that it didn’t take long to pivot, since “We realized that the problems we were looking to solve we needed to build technology to do that, so we started to write our own software.”

The company got its start as a Microsoft shop, building endpoint technology management, along with tools to help companies manage their computer terminals and networks better. That included products like NightWatchman, a power management tool for PCs and servers that helped save energy consumption for businesses; Nomad, a bandwidth management tool that helps reduce server usage; and Shopping, a platform for companies to build app-store-like experiences for internal employees or customer-facing tools.

Over time — years before the Covid-19 pandemic — that also evolved into software to enable hybrid working environments, which were already emerging as a thing and already posing challenges to businesses and users.

“The challenge was that remote working was a second-class experience,” he said, with technical support, software usage, network connectivity, device issues and just about everything harder to sort out when problems arose for workers not working in the office. So 1e — a play on the last two characters of the error message you get on a failing PC, “STOP 0x0000001E” — built software to address that, too.

Overall the company amassed some 40 patents on its technology, which now is used across more than 11 million devices among 500 large enterprise customers, including AT&T, Nestle, and a number of big banks that can’t be named.

It’s been the remote working software that has seen the company through an especially strong year — no surprise there, given the environment many of us have been working in — where businesses have been buying its tools as part of their “digital transformation” efforts, and it was this that got Karayi thinking that the company — which had largely built the business it had today on an employee base of people who just like building new things, and word-of-mouth between end users — could finally do with an outside investment and cash injection to take the business to the next level.

“We’re going through a seismic change right now and we think it’s a big opportunity for 1e,” he noted, adding that while many of us might feel like remote work is everywhere, he believes this is just the beginning of how to enable better remote working. “I think the office boat has sailed,” he said.

1e went with Carlyle among a number of other bidders as it seemed like the right fit: strong support and understanding of the business, combined with a well-recognized name. The plan more generally is to follow the PE playbook if all goes well: four years of growth, with “all later options open.”

“We were attracted to 1E’s fully integrated digital experience technology, which is differentiated by its advanced remediation and automation capabilities, and are delighted to partner with Sumir as we support the company as it enters its next phase of growth,” said Fernando Chueca, an MD in the Carlyle Europe Technology Partners (CETP) advisory team. “With strong industry tailwinds, we believe 1E has significant growth opportunities and we look forward to supporting another founder-backed business to scale through investments in product innovation, commercial operations, and international expansion.”

Other recent deals from Carlyle in Europe have included Eggplant, NetMotion Software, Apama, UC4/Automic Software and ITRS.

Version One launches $70M Fund IV and $30M Opportunities Fund II

Early stage investor Version One, which consists of partners Boris Wertz and Angela Tran, has raised its fourth fund, as well as a second opportunity fund specifically dedicated to making follow-on investments. Fund IV pools $70 million from LPs to invest, and Opportunities Fund II is $30 million, both up from the $45 million Fund III and roughly $20 million original Opportunity Fund.

Version One is unveiling this new pool of capital after a very successful year for the firm, which is based in Vancouver and San Francisco. 2021 saw its first true blockbuster exit, with Coinbase’s IPO. The investor also saw big valuation boosts on paper for a number of its portfolio companies, including Ada (which raises at a $1.2 billion valuation in May); Dapper Labs (valued at $7.5 billion after riding the NFT wave); and Jobber (no valuation disclosed but raised a $60 million round in January).

I spoke to both Wertz and Tran about their run of good fortune, how they think the fund has achieved the wins it recorded thus far, and what Version One has planned for this Fund IV and its investment strategy going forward.

“We have this pretty broad focus of mission-driven founders, and not necessarily just investing in SaaS, or just investing in marketplaces, or crypto,” Wertz said regarding their focus. “We obviously love staying early — pre-seed and seed — we’re really the investors that love investing in people, not necessarily in existing traction and numbers. We love being contrarian, both in terms of the verticals we go in to, and and the entrepreneurs we back; we’re happy to be backing first-time entrepreneurs that nobody else has ever backed.”

In speaking to different startups that Version One has backed over the years, I’ve always been struck by how connected the founders seem to the firm and both Wertz and Tran — even much later in the startups’ maturation. Tran said that one of their advantages is following the journey of their entrepreneurs, across both good times and bad.

“We get to learn,” she said. “It’s so cool to watch these companies scale […] we get to see how these companies grow, because we stick with them. Even the smallest things we’re just constantly thinking about— we’re constantly thinking about Laura [Behrens Wu] at Shippo, we’re constantly thinking about Mike [Murchison] and David [Hariri] at Ada, even though it’s getting harder to really help them move the needle on their business.”

Wertz also discussed the knack Version One seems to have for getting into a hot investment area early, anticipating hype cycles when many other firms are still reticent.

“We we went into crypto early in 2016, when most people didn’t really believe in crypto,” he said. “We started investing pretty aggressively in in climate last year, when nobody was really invested in climate tech. Having a conviction in in a few areas, as well as the type of entrepreneurs that nobody else really has conviction is what really makes these returns possible.”

Since climate tech is a relatively new focus for Version One, I asked Wertz about why they’re betting on it now, and why this is not just another green bubble like the one we saw around the end of the first decade of the 2000s.

“First of all, we deeply care about it,” he said. Secondly, we think there is obviously a new urgency needed for technology to jump into to what is probably one of the biggest problems of humankind. Thirdly, is that the clean tech boom has put a lot of infrastructure into the ground. It really drove down the cost of the infrastructure, and the hardware, of electric cars, of batteries in general, of solar and renewable energies in general. And so now it feels like there’s more opportunity to actually build a more sophisticated application layer on top of it.”

Tran added that Version One also made its existing climate bet at what she sees as a crucial inflection point — effectively at the height of the pandemic, when most were focused on healthcare crises instead of other imminent existential threats.

I also asked her about the new Opportunity Fund, and how that fits in with the early stage focus and their overall functional approach.

“It doesn’t require much change in the way we operate, because we’re not doing any net new investments,” Tran said. “So we recognize we’re not growth investors, or Series A/Series B investors that need to have a different lens in the way that they evaluate companies. For us, we just say we want to double down on these companies. We have such close relationships with them, we know what the opportunities are. It’s almost like we have information arbitrage.”

That works well for all involved, including LPs, because Tran said that it’s appealing to them to be able to invest more in companies doing well without having to build a new direct relationship with target companies, or doing something like creating an SPV designated for the purpose, which is costly and time-consuming.

Looking forward to what’s going to change with this fund and their investment approach, Wertz points to a broadened international focus made possible by the increasingly distributed nature of the tech industry following the pandemic.

“I think that the thing that probably will change the most is just much more international investing in this one, and I think it’s just direct result of the pandemic and Zoom investing, that suddenly the pipeline has opened up,” he said.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot about ourselves over the past year and a half,” Tran added. “I mean, we’ve always been distributed, […] and being remote was one of our advantages. So we certainly benefited and we didn’t have to adjust our working style too much, right. But now everyone’s working like this, […] so it’s going to be fun to see what advantage we come up with next.”

Don’t miss these startups exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

We’re just five days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 where thousands of mobility movers and shakers will dive deep into the game-changing technology that’s reinventing the way we move people — and pretty much everything else — around the world.

Mobility 2021 is a jam-packed event, and we want to make sure you know about everything that’s going down on June 9. But first, a message from the home office: Buy your TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 pass here. We now return you to our regularly scheduled post.

We’ve told you about the incredible slate of speakers, and you’ll find the wide range of topics they’ll cover in the event agenda. Remember, you can watch any session later at your convenience thanks to video on demand.

Now we want to remind you to visit our virtual expo area. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of Mobility 2021 — and one that offers untold opportunity. That’s where you’ll find 28 outstanding early-stage startups exhibiting their awesome tech and talent.

Hopin, our virtual platform, lets exhibitors schedule and host interactive product demos via live stream. Don’t be shy. Ask for a demo and start a conversation. Whether you’re looking to invest, collaborate or find the right solution for your business, you’ll find opportunity waiting for you in the expo.

Pro Tip: Watch all the exhibiting startups pitch live to TC editors and event attendees during the Startup Pitch Feedback Session (check the agenda for the exact time).

Ready to start planning your expo strategy? Here’s the list of the mighty mobility startups exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9 — in just five days. Grab your pass and dive into all the information, education, community and opportunity designed to drive your business forward.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Blackstone acquires tech publisher IDG for $1.3B, as private equity strikes again

It’s been a busy week for private equity with Cloudera, Stack Overflow and FireEye coming off the board on Tuesday and Wednesday. Today Blackstone bought media and data company IDG for $1.3 billion. The company had been owned by Oriental Rainbow, LLC, a subsidiary of China Oceanwide Holdings Group, Co. Ltd.

With IDG, Blackstone gets tech analyst firm IDC along with a collection of tech publications that includes CIO, Computerworld, InfoWorld, Macworld, Network World, PCWorld, and Tech Hive. The media publishing arm was once a powerhouse in the 1990s tech publishing world, although its shine has faded in recent years as the publishing industry in general has come under intense pressure.

The company has also been making some additions to the platform more recently with a stronger focus on data and analytics. Last year it bought Triblio, a marketing data platform to help companies deliver more personalized customer experiences. Last month it acquired Metri, an IT pricing service, which can help with IT budgeting and procurement. The latter could dovetail nicely with IDC’s consulting services.

Company CEO Mohamad Ali is hoping that Blackstone can infuse more capital into the company to keep building on its software services with a data focus. “Additional capital investment from Blackstone will allow us to cultivate our rich history of innovation and accelerate our product roadmaps to bring our customers the deeper insights and data they need to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving digital economy,” said in a statement.

That sounds like he wants to increase his data bet. It seems that the data side of the business was particularly attractive to Blackstone as well. “The high-quality data, analytics and insights IDG delivers to technology leaders are only becoming more critical as the pace of growth and innovation accelerates,” Peter Wallace, Global Head of Core Private Equity at Blackstone said in a statement.

The company launched in 1964 with the consulting side of the business, but founder Pat McGovern had a broader vision and began the publishing side of the company in 1967 with the launch of Computerworld. The publishing business actually grew to become integral part of the rise of the PC and the technology shift that occurred at a personal and business level in the 80s and 90s. It’s unclear what this deal will mean for the publishing side of the house or where that would even fit as it continues the push to focus on data and analytics.

It’s worth noting that Verizon Media, which owns this publication along with Engadget, was also recently sold to private equity firm, Apollo Global, as the private equity push into all parts of the technology ecosystem continues.

How to win consulting, board and deal roles with PE and VC funds

Would you like to work with private equity and venture capital funds?

There are relatively few jobs directly inside private equity and venture capital funds, and those jobs are highly competitive. However, there are many other ways you can work and earn money within the industry — as a consultant, an interim executive, a board member, a deal executive partnering to buy a company, an executive in residence or as an entrepreneur in residence.

Venture capitalists often have an operations background. However, historically most private equity professionals were former investment bankers and other finance professionals. Then private equity players gradually realized that value cannot be created through financial engineering alone. A BCG study of 121 investments found that operational improvement drives 48% of value creation in PE-backed companies. PE funds now almost always require an upgrade in management and change management teams if necessary.

Not surprisingly, the tighter your relationship with the firm, the more money you will earn:

PE fund structural options in working with operating executives

 Image Credits: David Teten

At Versatile VC, we’ve used all these models. We are soon launching Founders’ Next Move, a selective, free community for founders researching their next move, which will be a key tool for working with outside talent.

The simplest path forward is to identify funds in your industry of expertise and reach out. You can explore all of the models below with them. First, start by identifying the firms that invest in companies that you’ve worked with. Then, more broadly, look for investors in the industries in which you have expertise. You can identify institutional investors through one of multiple online databases:

All investors Private equity Venture capital
Preqin (free demo)

Grey House (free demo)

S&P Global Market Intelligence

Pratt’s Guide

Thomson One

PitchBook (free trial)

PrivateEquityFirms.com
(free trial)

Eurekahedge

AngelList (free)

CrunchBase (free)

PWC MoneyTree (free)

VentureDeal (free trial)

Asian Venture Capital Journal (free trial)

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can work with the investment community.

Expert networks

Expert network firms source subject matter experts from various domains and pair them with clients seeking topical or industry insights. They typically charge clients up to $1,200 per hour, and pay the expert $100 to $500 an hour. I founded Circle of Experts, an expert network that I sold to Evalueserve.

The expert network industry has grown an average 4.5% annually between 2015 and 2020, its market size topping $1.3 billion in 2020. While the major clients were initially hedge funds and private equity firms, consulting firms now comprise 32% of total demand for expert network services.

Inex One, an expert network marketplace, has compiled a list of 80 expert networks, summarized in the graphic below:

80 expert networks

Image Credits: Inex One and Integrity Research

The largest expert networks include: GLG, which accounts for approximately 50% of the industry’s revenue; AlphaSights is the second biggest generalist expert network; Guidepoint services six major categories of clients globally across several industries; and Third Bridge hires and retains talent to “democratize the world’s human insights and upend the traditional research model.”

Other notable expert networks include Atheneum Partners, Coleman Research Group, Dialectica, ENG, Lynk Global, Mosaic, PreScouter, ProSapient and Tegus. There are also expert networks with sector or geography specialization. For example, SERMO is a global social media network for physicians to exchange knowledge and share challenging patient cases, and Clarity.fm connects startups to experts in building new businesses.

Yieldstreet raises $100M as it mulls going public via SPAC, eyes acquisitions

These days, investing goes way beyond the stock market. And in recent years there’s been a growing number of startups which aim to give more people access to a wider array of investment opportunities. Today, one of those startups has raised a significant round of funding to help it achieve its goals.

Yieldstreet — which provides a platform for making alternative investments in areas like real estate, marine/shipping, legal finance, commercial loans and other opportunities that were previously only open to institutional investors — announced Tuesday that it has raised $100 million in a Series C funding round.

Former E*TRADE CEO Mitch Caplan, of Tarsadia Investments, led the round. Other participants include Alex Brown (a division of Raymond James), Kingfisher Capital, Top Tier Capital Partners and Gaingels. Existing backers Edison Partners, Soros Fund Management, Greenspring Associates, Raine Ventures, Greycroft and Expansion Capital also put money in the round, which brings Yieldstreet’s total raised to $278.5 million since its 2015 inception.

Milind Mehere and Michael Weisz co-founded Yieldstreet with the mission of making investing more inclusive for non-institutional investors. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Mehere declined to say at what valuation the Series C was raised other than to say “near unicorn.”

What he did share is that Yieldstreet has funded nearly $1.9 billion on its platform and has about 300,000 consumers signed up on its platform. That’s up from $600 million invested on its platform from more than 100,000 members in February 2019, at the time of its last raise. Also since that time, Yieldstreet has seen its investor base climb by 350%, he said. And this year, the company is expecting “over 50% revenue growth,” compared to 2020.

Image Credits: Yieldstreet

Since its inception, Yieldstreet says it has provided nearly more than $950 million in principal and interest payments to its investors.

And, both the number of investment requests and new investors surged by more than 250% from January to April 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, with new investors already exceeding all of last year, according to the company.

Mehere also shared that Yieldstreet is considering going public via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition vehicle) sometime in the next year or two.

“We are growing extremely fast and a few SPACs have approached us,” he told TechCrunch. “We are on a great path to potentially explore some of those options in the next 12 to 24 months. I think the public markets would be great for a company like Yieldstreet, purely because that gives you the visibility to expand your consumer growth but also gives you access to equity to pursue growth strategies such as potential acquisitions and other things.”

So far, Yieldstreet has acquired two companies (both in 2019): WealthFlex and Athena Art Finance. 

Some context

At a very high level, Yieldstreet aims to give consumers access to invest in asset classes outside of the stock market.

“These are investments that generate passive income. For example, we do a bunch of things in real estate such as financing warehouses, multifamily and distribution centers,” Mehere told TechCrunch. “We also do art, auto loans or equipment finance. These are typically investments done by institutions and what we’re trying to do is really fractionalize them and get them to real estate investors. A lot of this stuff is asset-backed and it’s generating cash flow.”

In an effort to help people understand just exactly what they’re putting their money into, Yieldstreet aims to provide “a ton of investor education,” Mehere added, in the form of content such as articles, blog posts and infographics.

The company also aims to have its portfolios working “around the clock” to automatically apply earned income toward everyday expenses — a concept conceived by Mahere as “self-driving money.”

Yieldstreet will use its new capital to expand its user base, develop new investment products, explore international expansion and pursue strategic acquisitions, according to Mehere. Outside of its New York City headquarters, Yieldstreet also has offices in Brazil, Greece and Malta.

“Alternative investing has generally been restricted to very high net worth individuals. This is not just a U.S. problem, but a worldwide one. In Europe, especially, it is exacerbated by a negative interest rate,” he said. “So it’s even more compelling to them to tap into U.S. assets.” As such, Yieldstreet plans to expand into Europe and Asia as part of its growth strategy.

Tarsadia Investments (and former E*TRADE CEO) President Caplan believes the company is “uniquely positioned” to “achieve significant growth in revenue while ultimately achieving tremendous scale.”

“Everything begins and ends with the management team,” he told TechCrunch. “Yieldstreet’s management team’s vision for the future of digital investing aligned perfectly with that of our organization at Tarsadia. Yieldstreet is building the future of investing.”

Opting for a debt round can take you from Series A startup to Series B unicorn

Debt is a tool, and like any other — be it a hammer or handsaw — it’s extremely valuable when used skillfully but can cause a lot of pain when mismanaged. Fortunately, this is a story about how it can go right.

At the beginning of 2020, my company, Quantum Metric, was on a tremendous growth curve. We couldn’t have been more excited — and then COVID hit. Suddenly, everything was up in the air. Customer behavior quickly began to reflect the uncertainty we all felt, and my team wasn’t immune to it, either. Like most, we sweated through the first few months of the pandemic.

If companies want to preserve equity, debt can be an advantageous choice.

On the one hand, we felt it might be our time to shine, as digital solutions rose to the surface even in industries that were previously slow to adopt them (think banking and airlines). On the other, companies were trying to lock up as much cash as they could, as fast as they could. What if our customers weren’t able to pay us?

One thing became crystal clear: We needed cash, too. First and foremost, we needed it to protect the company against the income loss we anticipated from customers who were having an especially tough time — namely, those who relied on in-person business as a major revenue source.

Second, we needed cash in order to scale. As the weeks following the initial shelter-in-place orders ticked by, the rush toward digital grew exponentially, and opportunities to secure new customers started piling up. A solution to our money problems, perhaps? Not so fast — it was a classic case of needing to spend in order to make.

Most startups face this dilemma at some point. Some face it continuously. We needed a way to funnel capital into growth and manage to stay cash strong, which was important for another reason: As we headed downstream toward a Series B funding round, we were hesitant to devalue the company (and employee shares) any more than was absolutely necessary.

“There are no solutions, there are only trade-offs,” Thomas Sowell wrote about politics. It’s no different in business. We knew that for Quantum Metric to succeed, we had to give up something in the future in order to get what we needed in the short term. Choosing a debt round as a younger company ran the risk of cash-flow misalignment down the road, but in the same vein, an equity round might have made subsequent funding rounds more challenging.

Whatever we did, we had to do fast, and we had to do it in a chaotic venture capital environment (that may be an understatement). In some meetings, it felt as if VC money had dried up completely. In others, record deals were being made. Startups were bypassing IPOs and going public via SPACs and direct listings. Factoring in the amount of hype that was permeating the market (something I’ve never been a fan of), the “wise” decision felt elusive. As you know from the headline of this piece, though, we chose debt, and it paid off.

The benefits of choosing debt over equity

There ended up being two “layers” of benefits to our debt round. The benefits of the first layer correspond directly with the goals I mentioned above; we got the cash we needed in order to expand — which meant investing in our team, product, marketing and infrastructure — and avoided diluting the company’s value for existing shareholders in the process.