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Extra Crunch roundup: A fistful of IPOs, Affirm’s Peloton problem, Zoom Apps and more

DoorDash, Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, C3.ai and Wish all filed to go public in recent days, which means some venture capitalists are having the best week of their lives.

Tech companies that go public capture our imagination because they are literal happy endings. An Initial Public Offering is the promised land for startup pilgrims who may wander the desert for years seeking product-market fit. After all, the “I” in “ISO” stands for “incentive.”

A flurry of new S-1s in a single week forced me to rearrange our editorial calendar, but I didn’t mind; our 360-degree coverage let some of the air out of various hype balloons and uncovered several unique angles.

For example: I was familiar with Affirm, the service that lets consumers finance purchases, but I had no idea Peloton accounted for 30% of its total revenue in the last quarter.

“What happens if Peloton puts on the brakes?” I asked Alex Wilhelm as I edited his breakdown of Affirm’s S-1. We decided to use that as the subhead for his analysis.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. Full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What is Roblox worth?

Gaming company Roblox filed to go public yesterday afternoon, so Alex Wilhelm brought out a scalpel and dissected its S-1. Using his patented mathmagic, he analyzed Roblox’s fundraising history and reported revenue to estimate where its valuation might land.

Noting that “the public markets appear to be even more risk-on than the private world in 2020,” Alex pegged the number at “just a hair under $10 billion.”

What China’s fintech can teach the world

HANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 31: An employee uses face recognition system on a self-service check-out machine to pay for her meals in a canteen at the headquarters of Alibaba Group on July 31, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The self-service check-out machine can calculate the price of meals quickly to save employees’ queuing time. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)

For all the hype about new forms of payment, the way I transact hasn’t been radically transformed in recent years — even in tech-centric San Francisco.

Sure, I use NFC card readers to tap and pay and tipped a street musician using Venmo last weekend. But my landlord still demands paper checks and there’s a tattered “CASH ONLY” taped to the register at my closest coffee shop.

In China, it’s a different story: Alibaba’s employee cafeteria uses facial recognition and AI to determine which foods a worker has selected and who to charge. Many consumers there use the same app to pay for utility bills, movie tickets and hamburgers.

“Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything,” says finance researcher Martin Chorzempa. “So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.”

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration

Consumer lending service Affirm filed to go public on Wednesday evening, so Alex used Thursday’s column to unpack the company’s financials.

After reviewing Affirm’s profitability, revenue and the impact of COVID-19 on its bottom line, he asked (and answered) three questions:

  • What does Affirm’s loss rate on consumer loans look like?
  • Are its gross margins improving?
  • What does the unicorn have to say about contribution profit from its loans business?

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

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

“The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn,” observes Managing Editor Danny Crichton, who looked back at Exitpalooza 2020 to answer “a simple question — who made the money?”

Covering each exit from the perspective of founders and investors, Danny makes it clear who’ll take home the largest slice of each pie. TL;DR? “Some really colossal winners among founders, and several venture firms walking home with billions of dollars in capital.

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

The S-1 Airbnb released at the start of the week provided insight into the home-rental platform’s core financials, but it also raised several questions about the company’s health and long-term viability, according to Alex Wilhelm:

  • How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?
  • How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?
  • Did local, long-term stays save Airbnb?
  • Has Airbnb ever really made money?
  • Is the company wealthy despite the pandemic?

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO, Autodesk.

Earlier this week, Autodesk announced its purchase of Spacemaker, a Norwegian firm that develops AI-supported software for urban development.

TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear interviewed Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost to learn more about the acquisition and asked why Autodesk paid $240 million for Spacemaker’s 115-person team and IP — especially when there were other startups closer to its Bay Area HQ.

“They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development,” said Anagnost.

“So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do.”

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing

On Monday, Alex dove into the IPO filing for enterprise artificial intelligence company C3.ai.

After poring over its ownership structure, service offerings and its last two years of revenue, he asks and answers the question: “is the business itself any damn good?”

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Image Credits: jayk7 / Getty Images

In his new book, “Subprime Attention Crisis,” writer/researcher Tim Hwang attempts to answer a question I’ve wondered about for years: does advertising actually work?

Managing Editor Danny Crichton interviewed Hwang to learn more about his thesis that there are parallels between today’s ad industry and the subprime mortgage crisis that helped spur the Great Recession.

So, are online ads effective?

“I think the companies are very reticent to give up the data that would allow you to find a really definitive answer to that question,” says Hwang.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Image Credits: Zoom

Even after much of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, we will still be using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform in great numbers.

That’s because Zoom isn’t just an app: it’s also a platform play for startups that add functionality using APIs, an SDK or chatbots that behave like smart assistants.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller spoke to entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging Zoom’s platform to build new applications with an eye on the future.

“By offering a platform to build applications that take advantage of the meeting software, it’s possible it could be a valuable new ecosystem for startups,” says Ron.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Without an on-campus experience, many students (and their parents) are wondering how much value there is in attending classes via a laptop in a dormitory.

Even worse: Declining enrollment is leading many institutions to eliminate majors and find other ways to cut costs, like furloughing staff and cutting athletic programs.

Edtech solutions could fill the gap, but there’s no real consensus in higher education over which tools work best. Many colleges and universities are using a number of “third-party solutions to keep operations afloat,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.”

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

3D rendering of TNT dynamite sticks in carton box on blue background. Explosive supplies. Dangerous cargo. Plotting terrorist attack. Image Credits: Gearstd / Getty Images.

I look for guest-written Extra Crunch stories that will help other entrepreneurs be more successful, which is why I routinely turn down submissions that seem overly promotional.

However, Henrik Torstensson (CEO and co-founder of Lifesum) submitted a post about the techniques he’s used to scale his nutrition app over the last three years. “It’s a strategy any startup can use, regardless of size or budget,” he writes.

According to Sensor Tower, Lifesum is growing almost twice as fast as Noon and Weight Watchers, so putting his company at the center of the story made sense.

Send in reviews of your favorite books for TechCrunch!

Image via Getty Images / Alexander Spatari

Every year, we ask TechCrunch reporters, VCs and our Extra Crunch readers to recommend their favorite books.

Have you read a book this year that you want to recommend? Send an email with the title and a brief explanation of why you enjoyed it to bookclub@techcrunch.com.

We’ll compile the suggestions and publish the list as we get closer to the holidays. These books don’t have to be published this calendar year — any book you read this year qualifies.

Please share your submissions by November 30.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it “NewCo.” We’re exploring pre-seed terms.

One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

— Diligent in Daly City

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Affirm files to go public

Affirm, a consumer finance business founded by PayPal mafia member Max Levchin, filed to go public this afternoon.

The company’s financial results show that Affirm, which doles out personalized loans on an installment basis to consumers at the point of sale, has an enticing combination of rapidly expanding revenues and slimming losses.

Growth and a path to profitability has been a winning duo in 2020 as a number of unicorns with similar metrics have seen strong pricing in their debuts, and winsome early trading. Affirm joins DoorDash and Airbnb in pursuing an exit before 2020 comes to a close.

Let’s get a scratch at its financial results, and what made those numbers possible.

Affirm’s financials

Affirm recorded impressive historical revenue growth. In its 2019 fiscal year, Affirm booked revenues of $264.4 million. Fast forward one year and Affirm managed top line of $509.5 million in fiscal 2020, up 93% from the year-ago period. Affirm’s fiscal year starts on July 1, a pattern that allows the consumer finance company to fully capture the U.S. end-of-year holiday season in its figures.

The San Francisco-based company’s losses have also narrowed over time. In its 2019 fiscal year, Affirm lost $120.5 million on a fully-loaded basis (GAAP). That loss slightly fell to $112.6 million in fiscal 2020.

More recently, in its first quarter ending September 30, 2020, Affirm kept up its pattern of rising revenues and falling losses. In that three-month period, Affirm’s revenue totaled $174.0 million, up 98% compared to the year-ago quarter. That pace of expansion is faster than the company managed in its most recent full fiscal year.

Accelerating revenue growth with slimming losses is investor catnip; Affirm has likely enjoyed a healthy tailwind in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic boosting ecommerce, and thus gave the unicorn more purchase in the realm of consumer spend.

Again, comparing the company’s most recent quarter to its year-ago analog, Affirm’s net losses dipped to just $15.3 million, down from $30.8 million.

Affirm’s financials on a quarterly basis — located on page 107 of its S-1 if you want to follow along — give us a more granular understanding of how the fintech company performed amidst the global pandemic. After an enormous fourth quarter in calendar year 2019, growing its revenues to $130.0 million from $87.9 million in the previous quarter, Affirm managed to keep growing in the first, second, and third calendar quarters of 2020. In those periods, the consumer fintech unicorn recorded a top line of $138.2 million, $153.3 million, and $174 million, as we saw before.

Perhaps best of all, the firm turned a profit of $34.8 million in the quarter ending June 30, 2020. That one-time profit, along with its slim losses in its most recent period make Affirm appear to be a company that won’t hurt for future net income, provided that it can keep growing as efficiently as it has recently.

The COVID-19 angle

The pandemic has had more impact on Affirm than its raw revenue figures can detail. Luckily its S-1 filing has more notes on how the company adapted and thrived during this Black Swan year.

Certain sectors provided the company with fertile ground for its loan service. Affirm said that it saw an increase in revenue from merchants focused on home-fitness equipment, office products, and home furnishings during the pandemic. For example, its top merchant partner, Peloton, represented approximately 28% of its total revenue for the 2020 fiscal year, and 30% of its total revenue for the three months ending September 30, 2020.

Peloton is a success story in 2020, seeing its share price rise sharply as its growth accelerated across an uptick in digital fitness.

Investors, while likely content to cheer Affirm’s rapid growth, may cast a gimlet eye at the company’s dependence for such a large percentage of its revenue from a single customer; especially one that is enjoying its own pandemic-boost. If its top merchant partner losses momentum, Affirm will feel the repercussions, fast.

Regardless, Affirm’s model is resonating with customers. We can see that in its gross merchandise volume, or total dollar amount of all transactions that it processes.

GMV at the startup has grown considerably year-over-year, as you likely expected given its rapid revenue growth. On page 22 of its S-1, Affirm indicates that in its 2019 fiscal year, GMV reached $2.62 billion, which scaled to $4.64 billion in 2020.

Akin to the company’s revenue growth, its GMV did not grow by quite 100% on a year-over-year basis. What made that growth possible? Reaching new customers. As of September 30, 2020, Affirm has more than 3.88 million “active customers,” which the company defines as a “consumer who engages in at least one transaction on our platform during the 12 months prior to the measurement date.” That figure is up from 2.38 million in the September 30, 2019 quarter.

The growth is nice by itself, but Affirm customers are also becoming more active over time, which provides a modest compounding effect. In its most recent quarters, active customers executed an average of 2.2 transactions, up from 2.0 in third quarter of calendar 2019.

Also powering Affirm has been an ocean of private capital. For Affirm, having access to cash is not quite the same as a strictly-software company, as it deals with debt, which likely gives the company a slightly higher predilection for cash than other startups of similar size.

Luckily for Affirm, it has been richly funded throughout its life as a private company. The fintech unicorn has raised funds well in excess of $1 billion before its IPO, including a $500 million Series G in September of 2020, a $300 million Series F in April of 2019, and a $200 million Series E in December of 2017. Affirm also raised more than $400 million in earlier equity rounds, and a $100 million debt line in late 2016.

What to make of the filing? Our first-read take is that Affirm is coming out of the private markets as a healthier business than the average unicorn. Sure, it has a history of operating losses and not yet proven its ability to turn a sustainable profit, but its accelerating revenue growth is promising, as are its falling losses.

More tomorrow, with fresh eyes.

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Khosla Ventures seeks $1.1 billion for its latest fund

Khosla Ventures, the eponymous venture firm helmed by longtime Silicon Valley rainmaker, Vinod Khosla, is raising  $1.1 billion for its latest venture fund, according to documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing was first spotted by Ari Levy over at CNBC.

Khosla, whose investing career began at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (back when it was still called Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) is rightly famous for a number of bets on enterprise software companies and was a richly rewarded co-founder of Sun Microsystems before venturing into the world of venture capital.

Like his former partner, John Doerr, Khosla also went all-in on renewable energy and sustainability both at Kleiner Perkins and then later at his own fund, which he reportedly launched with several hundreds of millions of dollars from his personal fortune.

Over the years Khosla Ventures has placed bets and scored big wins across a wide range of industries including cybersecurity (with the over $1 billion acquisition of portfolio company Cylance), sustainability (with the Climate Corp. acquisition), and healthcare (through the public offering of Editas).

And the current portfolio should also have some big exits with a roster that includes: the unicorn lending company, Affirm; the nuclear fusion technology developer, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (maybe not a winner, but so so so cool); delivery company, DoorDash; the meat replacement maker, Impossible Foods; grocery delivery service, Instacart; security technology developer, Okta; the health insurance provider, Oscar; and the payment companies Square and Stripe .

That’s quite a string of unicorn (and would-be unicorn) investments. And it speaks to the breadth of the firm’s interests that run the gamut from healthcare to fintech to sustainability and the future of food.

Khosla will likely benefit from the surge of interest in investments that adhere to new environmental, social responsibility and corporate governance standards.

There are billions of dollars that are looking for a home that can invest along those criteria, and for the last 16 years or so, that’s exactly what Khosla Ventures has been doing.

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