Sep
18
2020
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SaaS Ventures takes the investment road less traveled

Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.

The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience.

Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers.

The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal.

We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis.

A different investment approach

Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch.

Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments.

Collin Gutman from SaaS Ventures

Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures)

The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked.

“We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

Sep
09
2020
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Xometry raises $75M Series E to expand custom manufacturing marketplace

When companies need to find manufacturers to build custom parts, it’s not always an easy process, especially during a pandemic. Xometry, a seven-year-old startup based in Maryland, has built an online marketplace where companies can find manufacturers across the world with excess capacity to build whatever they need. Today, the company announced a $75 million Series E investment to keep expanding the platform.

T. Rowe Price Associates led the investment, with participation from new firms Durable Capital Partners LP and ArrowMark Partners. Previous investors also joined the round, including BMW i Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Foundry Group, Highland Capital Partners and Almaz Capital . Today’s investment brings the total raised to $193 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Randy Altschuler says Xometry fills a need by providing a digital way of putting buyers and manufacturers together with a dash of artificial intelligence to put the right combination together. “We’ve created a marketplace using artificial intelligence to power it, and provide an e-commerce experience for buyers of custom manufacturing and for suppliers to deliver that manufacturing,” Altschuler told TechCrunch.

The kind of custom pieces that are facilitated by this platform include mechanical parts for aerospace, defense, automotive, robotics and medical devices — what Altschuler calls mission-critical parts. Being able to put companies together in this fashion is particularly useful during COVID-19 when certain regions might have been shut down.

“COVID has reinforced the need for distributed manufacturing and our platform enables that by empowering these local manufacturers, and because we’re using technology to do it, as COVID has unfolded […] and as continents have shut down, and even specific states in the United States have shut down, our platform has allowed customers to autocorrect and shift work to other locations,” he explained

What’s more, companies could take advantage of the platform to manufacture critical personal protective equipment. “One of the beauties of our platform was when COVID hit customers could come to our platform and suddenly access this tremendous amount of manufacturing capacity to produce this much-needed PPE,” he said.

Xometry makes money by facilitating the sale between the buyer and producer. They help set the price and then make money on the difference between the cost to produce and how much the buyer was willing to pay to have it done.

They have relationships with 5,000 manufacturers located throughout the world and 30,000 customers using the platform to build the parts they need. The company currently has around 350 employees, with plans to use the money to add more to keep enhancing the platform.

Altschuler says from a human perspective, he wants his company to have a diverse workforce because he never wants to see people being discriminated against for whatever reason, but he also says as a company with an international market, having a diverse workforce is also critical to his business. “The more diversity that we have within Xometry, the more we’re able to effectively market to those folks, sell to those folks and understand how they utilize technology. We’re just going to better understand our customer set as we [build a more diverse workforce],” he said.

As a Series E-stage company, Altschuler does not shy away from the IPO question. In fact, he recently brought in new CFO Jim Rallo, who has experience taking a company public. “The market that we operate in is so large, and there’s so many opportunities for us to serve both our customers and our suppliers, and we have to be great for both of them. We need capital to do that, and the public markets can be an efficient way to access that capital and to grow our business, and in the end that’s what we want to do,” he said.

Sep
01
2020
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12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris-based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.

Aug
28
2020
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Steno raises $3.5 million led by First Round to become an extension of law offices

The global legal services industry was worth $849 billion in 2017 and is expected to become a trillion-dollar industry by the end of next year. Little wonder that Steno, an LA-based startup, wants a piece.

Like most legal services outfits, what it offers are ways for law practices to run more smoothly, including in a world where fewer people are meeting in conference rooms and courthouses and operating instead from disparate locations.

Steno first launched with an offering that centers on court reporting. It lines up court reporters, as well as pays them, removing both potential headaches from lawyers’ to-do lists.

More recently, the startup has added offerings like a remote deposition videoconferencing platform that it insists is not only secure but can manage exhibit handling and other details in ways meant to meet specific legal needs.

It also, very notably, has a lending product that enables lawyers to take depositions without paying until a case is resolved, which can take a year or two. The idea is to free attorneys’ financial resources — including so they can take on other clients — until there’s a payout. Of course, the product is also a potentially lucrative one for Steno, as are most lending products.

We talked earlier this week with the company, which just closed on a $3.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital (it has now raised $5 million altogether).

Unsurprisingly, one of its founders is a lawyer named Dylan Ruga who works as a trial attorney at an LA-based law group and knows first-hand the biggest pain points for his peers.

More surprising is his co-founder, Gregory Hong, who previously co-founded the restaurant reservation platform Reserve, which was acquired by Resy, which was acquired by American Express. How did Hong make the leap from one industry to a seemingly very different one?

Hong says he might not have gravitated to the idea if not for Ruga, who was Resy’s trademark attorney and who happened to send Hong the pitch behind Steno to get Hong’s advice. He looked it over as a favor, then he asked to get involved. “I just thought, ‘This is a unique and interesting opportunity,’ and said, ‘Dylan, let me run this.’ ”

Today the 19-month-old startup has 20 full-time employees and another 10 part-time staffers. One major accelerant to the business has been the pandemic, suggests Hong. Turns out tech-enabled legal support services become even more attractive when lawyers and everyone else in the ecosystem is socially distancing.

Hong suggests that Steno’s idea to marry its services with financing is gaining adherents, too, including amid law groups like JML Law and Simon Law Group, both of which focus largely on personal injury cases.

Indeed, Steno charges — and provides financing — on a per-transaction basis right now, even while its revenue is “somewhat recurring,” in that its customers constantly have court cases.

Still, a subscription product is being considered, says Hong. So are other uses for its videoconferencing platform. In the meantime, says Hong, Steno’s tech is “built very well” for legal services, and that’s where it plans to remain focused.

Aug
07
2020
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Wendell Brooks has resigned as president of Intel Capital

When Wendell Brooks was promoted to president of Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, in 2015, he knew he had big shoes to fill. He was taking over from Arvind Sodhani, who had run the investment component for 28 years since its inception. Today, the company confirmed reports that Brooks has resigned that role.

Wendell Brooks has resigned from Intel to pursue other opportunities. We thank Wendell for all his contributions and wish him the best for the future,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a rather bland send off.

Anthony Lin, who has been leading mergers and acquisitions and international investing, will take over on an interim basis. Interestingly, when Brooks was promoted, he too was in charge of mergers and acquisitions. Whether Lin keeps that role remains to be seen.

When I spoke to Brooks in 2015 as he was about to take over from Sodhani, he certainly sounded ready for the task at hand. “I have huge shoes to fill in maintaining that track record,” he said at the time. “I view it as a huge opportunity to grow the focus of organization where we can provide strategic value to portfolio companies.”

In that same interview, Brooks described his investment philosophy, saying he preferred to lead, rather than come on as a secondary investor. “I tend to think the lead investor is able to influence the business thesis, the route to market, the direction, the technology of a startup more than a passive investor,” he said. He added that it also tends to get board seats that can provide additional influence.

Comparing his firm to traditional VC firms, he said they were as good or better in terms of the investing record, and as a strategic investor brought some other advantages as well. “Some of the traditional VCs are focused on a company-building value. We can provide strategic guidance and complement some of the company building over other VCs,” he said.

Over the life of the firm, it has invested $12.9 billion in more than 1,500 companies, with 692 of those exiting via IPO or acquisition. Just this year, under Brooks’ leadership, the company has invested $225 million so far, including 11 new investments and 26 investments in companies already in the portfolio.

Jul
10
2020
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Operator Collective brings diversity and inclusion to enterprise investing

When Mallun Yen started Operator Collective last year, she wanted to build an investment firm for people who didn’t have a voice in Silicon Valley. That meant connecting women and people of color with operators who have been intimately involved in building companies from the ground up, then providing early-stage investment.

She then brought in Leyla Seka as a partner. Seka helped build the AppExchange at Salesforce into a powerful marketplace for companies built on top of the Salesforce platform, or that plugged into the platform in some meaningful way to sell their offerings directly to Salesforce customers. Through that role, she met a lot of people in the startup world, and she saw a lot of inequities.

Yen, whose background includes eight years as a VP at Cisco, and co-founder of Saastr with Jason Lemkin, wanted to build a different kind of firm, one that connected these operators — women like herself and Seka, who had walked the walk of running substantial businesses — with people who didn’t typically get heard in the corridors of VC firms.

Those operators themselves tend to be underrepresented at investment shops. The firm today consists of 130 operator LPs, 90% of whom are women and 40% people of color (which includes Asians). One way that the company can do this is by removing rigid buy-in requirements. LPs can contribute as little as $10,000, all the way up to millions of dollars, depending on their means, and that makes for a much more diverse pool of LPs.

While Seka admits they are far from perfect, she says they are fighting the good fight. So far, the company has invested in 18 startups with a more diverse set of founders and executives than you find at most firms that invest in enterprise startups. That means that 67% of their investments include people of color (which breaks down to 44% Asian, 17% Latinx and 6% Black), 56% include a female founder, 56% have an immigrant founder and 33% have a female CEO.

I sat down with Yen and Seka to discuss their thinking about enterprise investing. While they have a far more inclusive philosophy than most, their general approach to enterprise investing isn’t all that different than what we’ve seen in previous surveys with enterprise investors.

Which trends are you most excited about in the enterprise from an investing perspective?

Jul
01
2020
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Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Brohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Brohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.

May
18
2020
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Electric gets another $7 million in funding from 01 Advisors and the Slack Fund

Electric, a platform that aims to put IT departments in the cloud, today announced new funding following a continuation of its Series B earlier this year.

Dick Costolo and Adam Bain (01 Advisors) and the Slack Fund participated in the $7 million capital infusion.

01 Advisors put up the majority of the financing ($5 million) with the Slack Fund putting up a little under $1 million and other insiders covering the rest, according to Electric founder and CEO Ryan Denehy.

The funding situation with Electric is a bit unique. Electric raised a $25 million Series B round led by GGV in January of 2019. In March of this year, just before the lockdown, the company reopened the Series B at a higher valuation to make room for Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, raising an additional $14.5 million.

Then the coronavirus pandemic rocked the globe. On Monday March 9, the stock market felt it, triggering a temporary halt on trading. The following week was total financial chaos.

That’s when Adam Bain called up Denehy again. They ‘rapped out’ about the potential for Electric during this turbulent time.

“The increase in remote work is going to be dramatic,” said Denehy, relaying his conversation with Bain. “Larger companies are going to get smarter about budgeting and there is a lot of urgency for them to find ways to spend money around back office tasks like IT more efficiently. Electric becomes more appealing because, dollar for dollar, it’s a lot more efficient than building a big IT department.”

The first week of April, Bain called Denehy again, this time saying that 01 Advisors wanted to put in more money into Electric.

Electric is a platform designed to support the existing IT department of an organization, or in some cases, replace an outsourced IT department. Most of IT’s responsibilities focus on administration, distribution and maintenance of software programs. Electric allows IT to install its software on every corporate machine, giving the department a bird’s-eye view of the organization’s IT situation. It also aims to give IT departments more time to focus on real problem-solving and troubleshooting tasks.

From their own machine, lead IT professionals can grant and revoke permissions, assign roles and ensure all employees’ software is up to date.

Electric is also integrated with the APIs of top software programs, like Dropbox and G-suite, letting IT handle most of their day-to-day tasks through the Electric dashboard. Moreover, Electric is also integrated with Slack, letting folks within the organization flag an issue or ask a question from the platform where they spend the most time.

“The biggest challenge for Electric is keeping up with demand,” said Jason Spinell from the Slack Fund, who also mentioned that he passed on investing in Electric’s seed round and is “excited to sort of rectify [his] mistake.”

Electric also added a new self-service product that can live in the dock, letting employees look at all the software applications provided by the organization from their remote office.

“There are so many stretched IT departments now that have to do a lot more with a lot less,” said Denehy. “There are also companies who were working with an outsourced IT provider and relied on them showing up to the office a few times a week, and all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore.”

With the current ecosystem, Electric is continuing to spend on marketing but with 180 percent increase in interest from potential clients in the pipeline, according to Denehy.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate amount invested by participants in the round.

May
10
2020
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Sequoia’s Roelof Botha is more optimistic about startups today than he was a year ago

“I just think change unfairly favors the startup, the nimble small company,” says Roelof Botha.

The Sequoia partner, whose portfolio includes Unity, 23andMe, Instagram, Instacart, Xoom and YouTube, says he’s hopeful about the opportunities this pandemic has created for companies across a variety of sectors, including healthcare, cloud computing, social and others.

We spoke for an hour with Botha about several topics, including how user behavior is rapidly evolving, trends he’s seeing, his outlook on economic recovery, how he’s evaluating new investments and how fundraising itself is changing. Fun fact: Sequoia has made 10 investments over Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic forced us to stay at home.

The full conversation was broadcast on YouTube, and the embed appears below.

Side note: Extra Crunch Live is our new virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members. Folks can ask their own questions live during the chat, with guests that include Aileen Lee, Kirsten Green, Mark Cuban and many, many more. You can check out the schedule here.

Below, you’ll find a lightly edited transcript of our recent chat with Botha. Enjoy!

The differences in fundraising based on stage

When you’re listening to a seed-stage company, it’s often about the story. The founders paint a vision of the future. That’s part of what I love about my job, by the way. You’re sitting there and you’re trying to imagine what the world is going to look like one day and whether this company is on the right side of history. Or is it implausible that this will happen? It’s so much fun to sit there and think about that. At the seed stage, it’s about the story.

As you get to a Series A or Series B stage, the company will definitely start to have some metrics: usage numbers, early adoption numbers. If it’s an enterprise company, what are people willing to pay for your product? You start to get a sense of the metrics that back up the story. If the metrics don’t support the story, then you start to wonder if that company makes sense. In the long run, you need to have financials that flow from the metrics. But that’s typically at a Series C or later stage. And clearly, by the time a company goes public, you need to have connected story to metrics to financials.

May
07
2020
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VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.

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