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Main article: Private Equity

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If you don’t have an investment banker, replicate one

20:21 | 18 November

David Teten Contributor
David Teten is an advisor to emerging investment managers and a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

The good news: even if you have a small company and can’t afford a banker, you can synthetically and cheaply replicate one. That’s part of the value proposition of an institutional VC; I have been the (unpaid) investment banker for many of my portfolio companies.  

If you don’t have relationships with potential investors, here’s how to replicate a banker:

Her job is to lead a professional outreach campaign to investors, writing highly customized emails to each based on your agreed-upon template. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship, it is critical that you write emails which are palpably customized and of course well written, or else you’re just spamming.

The person doing outreach should have a title as senior as possible, e.g., “acting COO.” The higher the title, the higher the response rate she will generate. Any good business school will have dozens of current students who fit these criteria. She will get a lower response rate than you (with the CEO title), but likely a higher response rate than an outside banker who does not have an established relationship with the investor you are targeting. You can also have her impersonate you via email, although there’s always a risk of that ending in embarrassment if she is not highly responsible and trustworthy.  

  • You as the CEO should handle all the meetings. There’s no need to bring your colleague who’s setting up meetings, although I’m sure she will appreciate it.  

Raising capital is a time-consuming, arduous, complex task and you will be living with the consequences of your actions for decades. I recommend hiring a professional to help you, if you can afford it. I also recommend doing thorough research before hiring a banker. The wrong decision can cost you millions of dollars, in the form of a broken deal process, a suboptimal valuation, or inappropriate investors.

 


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Decide which type of investor to target for raising capital

00:20 | 15 November

David Teten Contributor
David Teten is a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a Partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

I recently wrote Should you raise venture capital from a traditional equity VC or a Revenue-Based Investing VC? Since then, I’ve talked with a number of other firms and greatly expanded my database: Who are the major Revenue-Based (RBI) Investing VCs?

That said, venture capital is just one of many options to finance your business, typically the most expensive. The broader question is, what type of capital should you raise, and from whom?  

I find many CEOs/CFOs default to approaching investors who have the most social media followers; who have spent the most money sponsoring events; or whom they met at an event. But, fame and the chance that you met someone at a conference do not logically predict that investor is the optimal investor for you. In addition, the best-known investors are also the ones who are most difficult to raise capital from, precisely because they get the most inbound.

The first step is to decide the right capital structure for your financing. Most CFOs build an Excel model and do a rough comparison of the different options. Some firms provide tools to do this online, e.g., Capital’s Cost of Equity estimator; Lighter Capital’s Cost of Capital Calculator; 645 Ventures’ cap table simulator. A similar, open-source, highly visual tool focused on VC is Venture Dealr.

For each of the major categories of investors, you can find online databases of the major providers. Major options include:

  • Traditional equity venture capital and private equity. For early-stage startups in particular, I suggest Foundersuite*, Samir Kaji’s Master List of US Micro-VC’s and Shai Goldman’s database of VC funds at/below $200M in size. You can find other databases of investors at AngelList, CB Insights, Crunchbase, Dow Jones VentureSource, Pitchbook, Preqin, and Refinitiv Eikon
  • Revenue-based investing VC. See Who are the major Revenue-Based Investing VCs?
  • Venture debt. See FindVentureDebt and this comparison guide of debt options for SAAS companies. Watch out for double dipping, or interest on interest.
  • Merchant cash advances/factoring. See Debanked’s list.
  • Small Business Association Loans. Ravi Bhagavan, Managing Director, BRG Capital Advisors, said, “a low-cost and often convenient form of capital for small businesses is SBA loans, which are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. SBA loans are $5k – $5M in size and are typically at a lower cost of capital compared to alternate forms of debt, since up to 85% of the loan is guaranteed by the SBA. Additionally, SBA loans have longer payment periods (5-25 years) than traditional forms of financing and come with less onerous ongoing disclosure requirements. However, SBA loans typically require a personal guarantee (PG) from the founder(s), who are scrutinized for income and credit history at the time of application. PGs can be quite daunting to founders because it puts their personal assets, including homes and investment accounts, on the line. SBA loans are available through SBA-approved banks and SBIC funds. SBICs make equity and debt investments of size $100k – $10M in qualifying small businesses. A good resource for looking up SBICs is here.” 
  • Crowdfunding, e.g., Republic*, Indiegogo*.  This option provides you capital and also market validation for desire for your product.  

Once you decide on the right category of investor, here are some tools I suggest using to find the optimal capital provider:

  • Most important, reference checking. I have a whitelist of investors I recommend to my portfolio — and a blacklist which I guide them to avoid.
  • Comparison websites: BitX, Fundera, GUD Capital, Lencred.com, Lendio, and NerdWallet Small Business Loans are all resources which can help you evaluate different options for small business financing, typically within a defined category of financing. Braavo specializes in financing app companies.
  • Financing supermarkets: Most investment firms start out with one asset class, and then over time they often add others. There are countless examples, e.g., most of the large B2B banks, Kapitus, Kalamata Capital, United Capital Source, etc. These firms can give you an apples-to-apples comparison of what different capital forms, albeit all from one provider, will cost you.

 


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Nigeria’s Interswitch confirms $1B valuation after Visa investment

10:29 | 12 November

Nigerian digital payments firm Interswitch confirmed today it has reached unicorn status after Visa acquired a minority equity stake in the firm.

“The investment makes Interswitch one of the most valuable African fintech businesses with a valuation of $1 billion,” Interswitch said in a release to TechCrunch.

The Visa investment could create the first of two market distinctions for Interswitch — as it shouldn’t change the Lagos based company’s plans to go public.

“An IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020,” a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background.

Interswitch did not reveal the amount of Visa’s investment and would not confirm Sky News reporting Monday that pegged it at $200 million for 20%.

Whatever the exact number, Interswitch’s confirmation of a $1 billion valuation marks another milestone in African tech.

Only one VC backed startup, turned later-stage company on the continent — e-commerce venture Jumia — has generated enough revenue and capital to achieve a ten-figure valuation.

For the near to medium-term, Interswitch could stand as Africa’s sole tech-unicorn, since Jumia’s volatile share-price and declining market-cap since an April IPO have dropped the company’s worth below $1 billion (for now).

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy.

The company now provides much of rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population. Interswitch offers a number of personal and business finance products, including its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app.

Interswitch Quickteller

From its home-base of Nigeria Interswitch has expanded its physical presence to Uganda, Gambia and Kenya .

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries and launched a partnership in August for its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

Visa and Interswitch are touting the equity investment as a strategic collaboration between the two companies, without a lot of detail on what that will mean.

“The partnership will create an instant acceptance network across Africa to benefit consumers and merchants,” was the characterization offered in a press release.

Verve Times Square Interswitch

Interswitch’s imminent IPO has been delayed for several years. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told TechCrunch, “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

In subsequent years, Elegbe and other Interswitch executives named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay.

A number stories have surfaced, including Bloomberg News reporting in July, that the company was poised to go public on the LSE.

TechCrunch’s source close to the matter offered the latest indication that Interswitch will list on a major exchange by mid-2020.

With possible exits for backers Helios Investment Partners, TA Investments and IFC, Interswitch’s unicorn status and pending IPO could create more momentum for startup investment in Africa. VC to the continent has grown significantly over the last 5 years, but stands at just over $1 billion annually, per Partech numbers.

Interswitch could also be in a stronger position to offer more capital directly to the continent’s fintech startups by reviving its ePayment Growth Fund. The venture arm made two investments in 2015, but then went largely quiet.

 

 

 

 

 


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New startup Capital wants to reintroduce founders to venture debt

16:00 | 30 October

Why raise venture capital when you can raise debt and keep your equity?

That’s the question a whole slew of new financial technology companies are hoping entrepreneurs will ask themselves as they begin to think about collecting outside capital for their businesses. Clearbanc made waves with its “20-Minute Term Sheet” campaign, with a goal of backing 2,000 businesses with $1 billion in non-dilutive capital by the end of 2019. Now, Capital is launching to educate founders about the possibility of debt funding.

Founded by former Draper Fisher Jurvetson (now known as Threshold Ventures) investor Blair Silverberg, Csaba Konkoly and Chris Olivares, Capital is launching today with $5 million from Future Ventures, Greycroft, Wavemaker and others. Additionally, it’s raised from “prominent institutional pools of capital” to invest between $5 million and $25 million in promising companies, determined using “The Capital Machine.”

Blair

Capital co-founder Blair Silverberg.

Capital’s underwriting technology, dubbed The Capital Machine, determines if businesses have the growth potential necessary for an infusion of debt (by analyzing revenue and other financial considerations), then delivers term sheets within 24 hours. The expedited process cuts out the time-consuming elements of pitching venture capitalists, the company says, allowing businesses to go from zero to $5 million—or more—in a matter of hours.

For companies that are’t ready for a debt round, or who don’t meet Capital’s qualification, the company is offering access to a free calculator that determines the cost of a company’s capital based on their fundraising and valuation data.

“We are trying to create a business that is the place that all founders go to start their fundraising process,” Silverberg tells TechCrunch. “We just want entrepreneurs to understand that step one in building a balance sheet is to understand your cost of capital. Step two is you can now use that to compare your financing options. We hope we can make this process simpler and more transparent.”

Capital charges a 5% to 15% flat fee on its capital, investing a maximum of $50 million over time. The company has ambitions of becoming a holistic investment bank of sorts, says Silverberg, ready and willing to advise companies on fundraising possibilities and connect them with VCs for future deals.

Historically, Silverberg explains, venture capital dollars went to risky upstarts poised to disrupt a category. Today, loads of equity funding is funneled into predictable business models that could be funded entirely with non-dilutive capital: “I saw what the venture process was like,” Silverberg said, referencing his stint at DFJ. “Tech companies do not utilize debt … this is extremely expensive for founders.”

There’s a culture surrounding venture capital fundraising in Silicon Valley and beyond. One in which startups seek to become ‘unicorns,’ hoping for stories on this very sight to laud their accomplishments—including the loads of venture capital dollars they’ve pulled in. In reality, much of that capital is plowed into things like Facebook and Google to fuel digital ad campaigns, which is not how VC is intended to be used and can result in founders taking a company public with just a few percentage points of ownership.

Solutions like Capital, Clearbanc, Lighter Capital and others, should remind entrepreneurs that venture capital isn’t the only route to getting a company off the ground and can be raised in addition to venture debt.

“There’s no excuse for not knowing your cost of capital,” Silverberg adds.

 


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Sydney’s AirTree Ventures closes $275M fund as Aussie unicorns gather pace

19:35 | 21 October

The Australian scene industry has, in the last few years, started to generate a swathe of startups that have broken through internationally. Prior to this current era, Australia was scene has very much a local market in tech terms, with only occasional breakouts, like Atlassian . In fact, it’s now gaining a reputation as a serial producer of high-quality tech platforms, the hottest of which right now is Canva, which recently raised an additional $85 million to bring its valuation to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in May. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Notably, Sydney-based AirTree Ventures also invested early.

So that momentum is further confirmed by the news that Airtree has closed its 3rd fund of $275m. This new fund comes after AirTree’s $250m fund in 2016 and a $60m fund in 2014. You can clearly see the buildup in these numbers.

John Henderson, Partner said: “The interest from investors in our fund is a stunning reflection on the performance of the entrepreneurs we’ve been lucky enough to back. We were humbled by overwhelming demand, but felt it was the right thing for our investors to maintain discipline and a consistent fund size across vintages.”

Australian venture capital was less than fashionable after the dotcom boom and bust, and local institutional capital in Australia and New Zealand all but disappeared, hence why we saw so few startups form the region.

AirTree’s $60m fund in 2014, broke that drought and Australia now boasts over 50 tech startups valued at $100 million, 14 over $500 million and produces one ‘unicorn’ per year on average.

Airtree has gone on to invest in Australian and Kiwi startups like Canva, Prospa, Secure Code Warrior, Athena, Flurosat, Brighte, Joyous, Thematic and A Cloud Guru. Prospa, Australia’s main online lender to small businesses, IPO’ed on the Australian Stock Exchange in June 2019.

Airtree can invest as little as $200k, but now has the firepower to own the pipeline all the way up the investment stack.

Craig Blair, Managing Partner commented: “As ex-founders, we have experienced the tough, lonely road ourselves. This empathy with the founder journey helps us focus on when to provide support and when to get out of the way. In our next fund, we’ll be expanding our suite of services and our network of connections, all designed to give our founders an unfair advantage.”

The VC also announced two promotions and a new executive hire:

• Elicia McDonald promoted to Principal, with a mandate to lead new investments
• Emily Close joining the investment team, promoted to Associate
• Melissa Ran leading AirTree’s Community and Advocacy efforts

AirTree’s latest fund is backed by six institutional investors from Australia including AustralianSuper, SunSuper and Statewide. The rest of the new fund comes from a range of successful entrepreneurs and family offices.

Henderson added: “An important portion of our portfolio is already in New Zealand and we remain very focused on supporting that market. We’ve been investing meaningful resources and funds in New Zealand since 2014 and we’ll have more Kiwi news to share soon.”

The fund raise follows news that AirTree portfolio company Property-tech start-up :Different has raised a second round of capital from AirTree, alongside Brisbane-based real estate fund PieLAB, as it expands into Queensland.

 


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Exclusive: 2019 HAX report reveals hardware startup trends

19:04 | 18 October

Hardware startups are expanding from the world of consumer tech; global hardware accelerator HAX knows this better than most and details the latest trends in its yearly report. One of the most active early-stage hardware investors, the group today released exclusively to TechCrunch its yearly report with insights on hardware startups.

The report highlighted several vital insights: hardware companies are increasingly entering the public market, and more privately-held hardware startups are exceeding a valuation of $1 billion. Of those unicorns, more than 50% are Chinese hardware companies.

 


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Greylock GP Sarah Guo is as bullish on SaaS as ever

16:00 | 18 October

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where each week we discuss other people’s money and what sense their investment choices make (or don’t).

This week was honestly a treat. We had Kate Clark in the studio along with Alex Wilhelm and a special guest, Sarah Guo from Greylock Partners, a venture firm (obviously). Guo has the distinction of having the best-ever fun fact on the show.

We kicked off with Grammarly, a company that recently put $90 million into its accounts. We chatted about for whom it was built, and if we use it today. One thing that felt clear was that consumers are more willing than before to pay for their tooling. And that means that companies like Grammarly may prove strong investment candidates.

Next, we hit on two more rounds, namely Tiger Global’s investment into Lattice and Clari’s $60 million Series D. Starting with Lattice, a performance management company founded by none other than Sam Altman’s brother, Jack. The startup raised $25 million from Tiger Global, read more about that here.

Clari led us a to a discussion of vertical SaaS, and Guo’s views on the future of SaaS products (she’s bullish). Alex and Guo had a lot to say on this subject.

After talking over a few rounds the discussion turned to the Q3 venture market. A few things stood out from the data and projections. First, that early-stage fundraising was a little light in the quarter. It could be a single-quarter wobble, but the data was worth chewing on all the same. And, second, that Seed deal and dollar volume were hot once again.

And we wrapped with a discussion of Tempest, a new sobriety-focused startup that raised a $10 million round. Honestly, we aren’t sure how we feel about the business model. Please let us know if you have thoughts.

It was a good time. A big thanks to Guo for coming on the show, and a shoutout to the team that makes Equity happen: Chris Gates, and Henry Pickavet.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

 


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Airbnb’s WeWork problem

02:55 | 18 October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does any of this matter, you ask?

 


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Thoma Bravo makes $3.9 billion offer to acquire security firm Sophos

16:11 | 14 October

Sophos announced this morning that private equity firm Thoma Bravo, has agreed to buy the British company for £3.1 billion ($3.9 billion USD). The price is based on $7.40 USD per share and the company indicated that the board of directors will recommend that shareholders accept the offer.

Sophos CEO Kris Hagerman, as you would expect, put the deal in the brightest possible light. “Sophos is actively driving the transition in next-generation cybersecurity solutions, leveraging advanced capabilities in cloud, machine learning, APIs, automation, managed threat response, and more. We continue to execute a highly-effective and differentiated strategy, and we see this offer as a compelling validation of Sophos, its position in the industry and its progress,” he said in a statement.

But private equity firms typically look for undervalued firms that they can purchase and either combine with other properties or find ways to build up their value. Thoma Bravo indicated in a public filing that it saw a firm, it called “a global leader in next-generation cybersecurity solutions spanning endpoint, next-generation firewall, cloud security, server security, managed threat response, and more,” it stated in the filing.

The company has 400,000 customers in 150 countries, 47,000 channel partners and more than 100 million users, according to the filing. The stock price was up this morning on the news, according to reports.

It’s worth noting that just last week, TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker reported on “a vulnerability in [Sophos’] Cyberoam firewall appliances, which a security researcher says can allow an attacker to gain access to a company’s internal network without needing a password.” The company issued an advisory last week on the problem, indicating it had issued a patch on September 30th.

 


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Brad Feld: what founders need to know about recent changes in VC deal terms

23:08 | 11 October

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos hopped on the line with prominent investor, entrepreneur, thought leader, and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld to discuss the latest edition of his book “Venture Deals”, his advice to founders and investors, and his take on hot button issues of the day (including dual-class shares, direct listings, and what happened at WeWork).

In their conversation, Brad and Connie discuss the need to know information when it comes to preparing for, structuring and executing venture deals, and how that information has changed over the past several decades. Feld walks through the major topics that have been added in the latest edition of the book, such as how to handle venture debt, as well as tactical attributes that aren’t currently in the book, such as secondary market trading.

Brad also gives his take on the most effective fundraising tactics for founders, and what common pieces of advice might be overblown.

Brad Feld: “I think the approach to the amount of money that you’re raising is both nuanced and evolves based on what financing round you’re at. So if you’re in an early round, some of the characteristics are different than if you’re in a later round. But I think the general truism… that I like to use when people say, “Well, how much money should I raise?”

I start with two variables and you the entrepreneur get to define those two variables. The two variables are: the amount of money you raise and what getting to the next level means. The amount of money you should raise is the amount of money that you need to get your business to the next level. There are lots of different ways to define what next level is and by forcing yourself internally to define next level and then define what you need in terms of capital to get to that next level… when you’re raising that first round of financing or even the second or third round of financing, it helps you size rationally what you need versus reactively to whatever the market characteristics are.

I actually encourage entrepreneurs to raise the least amount of money they need to get to the next level, or at least that’s the number that they go out to market with. Not a range, not a big number because you’re trying to drive some kind of valuation characteristic off a big number, but the amount of money that you actually think you need to get to the next level. Then if you can be oversubscribed, that’s an awesome situation.”

Feld and Connie dive deeper into current issues in the startup and venture landscape, including Brad’s take on the impact of the SoftBank Vision Fund, what went down at internally and externally at both WeWork and Uber, as well as how boards, executives and founders can manage cult of personality and static company cultures.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Connie Loizos: I think the last time I saw you in person was out here in San Francisco at an event I was hosting and that was maybe two years ago?

Brad Feld: Yup, that’s right. That was at the Autodesk Lab if I remember correctly.

Loizos: Yes. It’s good to hear your voice, and thank you for joining us on this call. We have a lot of readers who are big fans of yours that are on the line and are eager to learn about your book “Venture Deals” and your broader thoughts about the current state of the market. And that said, I know you only have so much time, so let’s dive first into the book. So ‘Wiley’, your publisher has just put out the fourth edition of this book “Venture Deals”, and it’s really easy to appreciate why. I was looking through it and it’s so incredibly useful about how venture deals come together and possible pitfalls to avoid. And given there are always new entrepreneurs emerging, it continues to be highly relevant.

Can I ask you, so how do you go about updating a book like this, given that some things change and some things stay the same?

 


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