Posted on

10 Zurich-area investors on Switzerland’s 2020 startup outlook

European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.

In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).

According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.

As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.

But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.

This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.

Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.

But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.

Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.

The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.

Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.

These are the investors we interviewed:

Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.

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?
I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.

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?
Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.

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?
I think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.

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?
I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.

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?
Not much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.

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.
What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.

Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows

Read More

Posted on

As investors and founders mature, Vienna emerges as a European startup hub

According to Austrian Startup Monitor, entrepreneurs have founded more than 2,200 startups in Austria since 2008, with the number of tech companies growing 12% per year since then, significantly faster than the 3% growth rate for traditional companies.

Home to roughly 50% of Austria’s startups, Vienna has a plethora of VC, corporate and university investors. Top VCs include 3TS Capital Partners, AC & Friends, Cudos Capital, FSP Ventures, Hansmen Group, i4g Investment, i5invest, LilO Ventures, next.march, primeCROWD, Speedinvest and Venionaire Capital, among others.

The local ecosystem benefits from several initiatives, including the Social Impact Awards, Vienna Startup Awards, Design Week, Climate KIC Stage, Innovation Incubation Center and INiTS Accelerator. The well-run Pioneers Festival contributed massively to the ecosystem for several years after a certain TechCrunch editor-at-large gave the organizers an excuse to expand on a simple TechCrunch meetup. But the festival was shuttered last year after its sale to a local accelerator meant that the event itself ran out of steam. Perhaps it was just as well, given this year’s pandemic.

State support for startups is also there. The Austrian government created a comprehensive startup program in 2016 to make the country more attractive to startups setting up there.

Standout exits include fitness app maker Runtastic, acquired by Adidas for $240 million in 2015, as well as listings marketplace Shpock, which was acquired by Norwegian publishing conglomerate Schibsted in 2015. Other notable startups originally from Vienna include mySugr, wikifolio, kompany and Codeship.

There have been jitters on the way, however. The Austrian Private Equity and Venture Capital Organization’s 2019 report found that Austria’s startups saw €237.6 million invested in 2018, but, this number fell 8.2% to €218 million in 2019; the number of deals exceeding €500,000 also dipped by 8.7%. Foreign funding also slowed in 2019 after a few years of a bull run — between 40% and 63% of deals sized €0.25-€1.99 million were significantly funded by foreign investors in 2018.

Despite the decline, local investors have started to pick up the slack, boosting the number of funding rounds over €5 million to 12 deals in 2019 from 11 in 2018. In both years, all but one of those deals drew a substantial part of the funding round from foreign investors.

We expect more to emerge from Vienna’s tech scene in the future. The Pioneers Festival (RIP) proved that Vienna is a fascinating bridge between Western European capital and entrepreneurial culture, and East European entrepreneurs and talent, which it will no doubt continue to benefit from in years to come. But — just as will happen with Lisbon this year and the loss of Web Summit — the loss of a major conference in Vienna to shine a light on the city and ecosystem, combined with the pandemic, may have cooling effects for the next couple of years.


Notable Vienna startups:

  • Newsadoo: Uses artificial intelligence to personalize news.
  • Cashpresso: Links customers, merchants and banks to offer consumer financing options.
  • Jobrocker: An online job search portal that connects applicants’ CVs with job openings.
  • Storyblok: A headless content management system.
  • Byrd: First-mile shipping service that allows customers to ship items hassle-free.
  • Music Traveler: A marketplace that centralizes spaces with musical instruments and equipment.
  • PAYUCA: Provides flexible access to parking spaces in private office and residential buildings.
  • Refurbed: Fast-growing marketplace for refurbished electronics, across the German-speaking world.
  • Presono: A web platform for creating, managing and showing presentations in companies.
  • Blockpit: Develops software for portfolio tracking, tax calculation and compliance reporting of transactions for cryptocurrencies and crypto assets.
  • Robo Wunderkind: A robot for kids to build and program.
  • Medicus: Converts health data with their cryptic numbers and medical language into an easy-to-understand visual experience.
  • Cybershoes: VR accessory that allows you to walk through your favorite VR games.

Here’s who we interviewed:

Eva Arh, principal, Capital 300

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B software, robotics, no/low-code automation, AI-enabled vertical solutions, e-health, companies enabling others to hire and engage talent remotely.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Lokalise.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Companies that enable others to manage and automate billing even further (e.g., per API call), next-gen video conferencing, solutions guiding women through menopause, providing solutions that help companies to offer mental health services to distributed teams, bringing cloud kitchens to the next level (not running central kitchens).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As always, ambitious, smart, hard-working teams eager to build a category leader in a huge market.

What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Concerned about solutions that leverage behavioral data to influence people for the sake of optimizing profit, overload of sales and marketing tech, overload of chatbot providers. [It is] hard to compete with players that have benefited from huge network effects such as food delivery.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on German-speaking areas and Central Eastern Europe. Opportunistically we would also invest outside of the region, still in Europe.

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?
Austria — no specific industry focus within software. However, well-positioned in the biotech space, CEE — given the strong presence of IT outsourcing companies, the region is well-positioned to build solutions in the business-process automation, dev tool space. Storyblok (our portfolio). Others to watch: Anyline, Adverity, Bitpanda, PlanRadar, Refurbed.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Regarding Vienna — we are seeing the first generation of entrepreneurs building global companies. Their and their team experience will be at utmost value creating a new wave of tech companies that compete on a global 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?
Yes, we already see this — exciting companies coming out of small cities in Poland, Germany, etc. and companies going remote.

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?
Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.

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?
We have always been very selective and focused, partnering up three to four times a year. We continue at the same pace. The companies that perform well despite COVID-19 are still in a strong position for attracting external capital. Of course, we help our portfolio to secure a runway and have a discussion how/whether the situation has impacted their offering/GTM. Some companies have to rethink their value proposition, some rethink their target groups either to make up for slower sales cycles or on the other hand to leverage and benefit from the current situation.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we see that Lokalise is growing heavily with the current customer base as their customers expand to new markets, likely to make up for slower revenue growth in their existing markets. We see that Nethone (fraud prevention) is able to double down on e-commerce. Online fraud and online transactions are skyrocketing as people spend much more time online. (On the other hand, their airline customers of course show a different trajectory.)

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.
It is inspiring to see how founders go through the current situation, act instead of reacting, especially in those countries where there is less government support incentives in place. Personally, I am also happy to see that people use the work from home time to rethink and introduce healthier habits.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
As the world has gone online and the location matters much less, there is an opportunity to distribute the created value and wealth more evenly — be it a company founded in a “non-tech-hub” location or be it talent hired remotely.

Read More

Posted on

Extra Crunch Friday roundup: Edtech funding surges, Poland VC survey, inside Shift’s SPAC plan, more

I live in San Francisco, but I work an East Coast schedule to get a jump on the news day. So I’d already been at my desk for a couple of hours on Wednesday morning when I looked up and saw this:

As unsettling as it was to see the natural environment so transformed, I still got my work done. This is not to boast: I have a desk job and a working air filter. (People who make deliveries in the toxic air or are homeschooling their children while working from home during a global pandemic, however, impress the hell out of me.)

Not coincidentally, two of the Extra Crunch stories that ran since our Tuesday newsletter tie directly into what’s going on outside my window:

As this guest post predicted, a suboptimal attempt I made to track a delayed package using interactive voice response (IVR) indeed poisoned my customer experience, and;

Sheltering in place to avoid the novel coronavirus — and wildfire smoke — is fueling growth in the video-game industry, perhaps one factor in Unity Software Inc.’s plan to go public ahead of competitor Epic Games. In a two-part series, we looked at how the company has expanded beyond games and shared a detailed financial breakdown.

We covered a lot of ground this week, so scroll down or visit the recently redesigned Extra Crunch home page. If you’d like to receive this roundup via email each Tuesday and Friday, please click here.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a relaxing and safe weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor
@yourprotagonist


In a two-part series that ran on TechCrunch and Extra Crunch, former media columnist Eric Peckham returned to share his analysis of Unity Software Inc.’s S-1 filing.

Part one is a deep dive that explains how the company has grown beyond gaming to develop multiple revenue streams and where it’s headed.

For part two on Extra Crunch, he studied the company’s numbers to offer some context for its approximately $11 billion valuation.


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

As we’ve covered previously, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the world a lot smaller.

Investors who focus on their own backyards still have an advantage, but the ability to set up a quick coffee meeting with a promising investor is no longer one of them.

Even though some VCs are cutting first checks after Zoom calls, regional investors’ personal networks are still a trump card. Tourists will always rely on guide books, however, which is why we continue to survey investors around the world.

A Dealroom report issued this summer determined that 97 VC funds backed more than 1,600 funding rounds in Poland last year. With over 2,400 early- and late-stage startups and 400,000 engineers in the country, it’s easy to see why foreign investors are taking notice.

Editor-at-large Mike Butcher reached out to several investors who focus on Warsaw and Poland in general to learn more about the startups fueling their interest across fintech, gaming, security and other sectors:

  • Bryony Cooper, managing partner, Arkley Brinc VC
  • Anna Wnuk-Błażejczyk, investor relations manager, Experior.vc
  • Rafał Roszak, investment director, YouNick Mint
  • Michal Mroczkowski, partner, Market One Capital
  • Marcus Erken, partner, Sunfish Partners
  • Borys Musielak, partner, SMOK Ventures
  • Mathias Åsberg, partner, Nextgrid
  • Kuba Dudek, SpeedUp Venture Capital Group
  • Marcin Laczynski, partner, Next Road Ventures
  • Michał Rokosz, partner, Inovo Venture Partners

We’ll run the conclusion of his survey next Tuesday.


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

Even for fledgling startups, creating a robust customer service channel — or at least one that doesn’t annoy people — is a reliable way to keep users in the sales funnel.

Using AI and automation is fine, but now that consumers have grown used to asking phones and smart speakers to predict the weather and read recipe instructions, their expectations are higher than ever.

If you’re trying to figure out what people want from hyper-personalized customer experiences and how you can operationalize AI to give them what they’re after, start here.


For today’s edition of The Exchange, Natasha Mascarenhas joined Alex Wilhelm to examine how the pandemic-fueled surge of interest in edtech is manifesting on the funding front.

The numbers suggest that funding will far surpass the sector’s high-water mark set in 2018, so the duo studied the numbers through August 31, which included a number of mega-rounds that exceeded $100 million.

“Now the challenge for the sector will be keeping its growth alive in 2021, showing investors that their 2020 bets were not merely wagers made during a single, overheated year,” they conclude.


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

The odds are low that someone’s going to enter my home and steal my belongings. I still lock my door when I leave the house, however, and my valuables are insured. I’m an optimist, not a fool.

Similarly: Is your startup’s cybersecurity strategy based on optimism, or do you have an actual response plan in case of a data breach?

Security reporter Zack Whittaker has seen some shambolic reactions to security lapses, which is why he turned in a post-mortem about a corporation that got it right.

“Once in a while, a company’s response almost makes up for the daily deluge of hypocrisy, obfuscation and downright lies,” says Zack.


Image Credits: Eric Burger/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s a lot of buzz about special purpose acquisition companies these days.

Used-car marketplace Shift announced its SPAC in June 2020, and is on track to complete the process in the next few months, so co-founder/co-CEO George Arison wrote an Extra Crunch guest post to share what he has learned.

Step one: “If you go the SPAC route, you’ll need to become an expert at financial engineering.”


Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I am a software engineer and have been looking at job postings in the U.S. I’ve heard from my friends about J-1 Visa Training or J-1 Research.

What is a J-1 status? What are the requirements to qualify? Do I need to find a U.S. employer willing to sponsor me before I apply for one? Can I get a visa? How long could I stay?

— Determined in Delhi


While we count down to the September 23 premiere of NYSE: PLTR, Danny Crichton looked at the “robust secondary market” that has allowed some investors to acquire shares early.

“Given the number of people involved and the number of shares bought and sold over the past 18 months, we can get some insight regarding how insiders perceive Palantir’s value,” he writes.


Image Credits: JakeOlimb / Getty Images

Zack Whittaker interviewed Bugcrowd CTO, founder and chairman Casey Ellis about the best practices he recommends for creating a startup culture that takes security seriously.

“It’s an everyone problem,” said Ellis, who encouraged founders to promote the notion of “productive paranoia.”

Now that the threat envelope includes everyone from marketing to engineering, employees need to “internalize the fact that bad stuff can and does happen if you do it wrong,” Ellis said.

Read More

Posted on

Six Toronto VCs discuss COVID-19 and the post-pandemic era

As North America’s fourth-largest city, Toronto is one of the world’s top startup ecosystems.

After spawning companies like Eventbrite and Crowdmark, Ontario’s capital has attracted international talent that complements its homegrown population of entrepreneurs and technical talent.

Six investors we surveyed who work and live in the area said they believe Toronto will continue to thrive after the COVID-19 storm passes. Some of them focus exclusively on the region, while others invest elsewhere as well. As they explained, the city has a lot going for it: It’s diverse, has access to locally trained engineering and business workers, and the area has already fostered many companies that are doing very well.

Investors expect Toronto to remain a fintech hub

Fintech is one of the city’s top industries, and the investors in this survey expect this to continue. Stephanie Choo, head of investments at Portag3 Ventures, said “fintech continues to see massive tailwinds from the fallout from COVID-19 as incumbents struggle to fully digitize their offerings.”

Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures listed fintech as one of Toronto’s key industries. Eva Lau of Two Small Fish Ventures agreed, adding that “blockchain has also been doing well because many blockchain-related technologies or companies were started in Toronto.”

Other investors point to fintech business leaders in Toronto like CEOs Mike Katchen of Wealthsimple, Daniel Eberhard of Koho, Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow of Clearbanc and Kirk Simpson of Wave Financial.

Diversity is one of Toronto’s strengths

Nearly all of the surveyed investors cited diversity as a key reason to live and work in Toronto. Probal Lala, chairman of Maple Leaf Angels, says, “Beyond having a vibrant technology ecosystem, Toronto has one of the most diverse communities in North America and is not only a great place to find the intellectual horsepower and funding to build a great global startup, but also the mosaic of social communities that makes it a great place to live and raise a family.”

Choo said the United States’ current battles over immigration could benefit Canada. “Small, nimble teams that need to move fast may still choose to co-locate in person — and many will still want access to amenities that only a large, vibrant and diverse city like Toronto can offer.”

She also pointed to Toronto’s claim of being one of the most diverse cities in the world. “[This] not only makes the city interesting but also very welcoming for those who relocate from elsewhere; a strong startup and tech scene, and, lastly, a vibrant cultural and food scene, especially through the lens of cost-of-living compared to comparable major cities.”

Shopify’s executives are key players in Toronto’s ecosystem

Several VCs listed Shopify executives as local leaders, while others acknowledged the growing unicorn’s impact. Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures says, “Toronto has traditionally been strong in fintech, B2B SaaS, crypto and AI. The explosion of Shopify should also benefit companies focused on e-commerce and supply chain solutions.”

Adam McNamara and Ameet Shah, when asked about local business leaders, both listed Satish Kanwar. Kanwar is GM and VP of Product at Shopify after the company purchased Jet Cooper, a startup co-founded by Kanwar. McNamara also points to Farhan Thawar, Shopify’s VP of Engineering, as a local leader.

Who we spoke to:

  • Probal Lala, chairman, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation
  • Stephanie Choo, head of investments, Portag3 Ventures
  • Adam McNamara, founding partner, Ramen VC
  • Ameet Shah, partner, Golden Ventures
  • Matt Golden, founder and managing partner, mGolden Ventures
  • Eva Lau, founding partner, Two Small Fish Ventures

Probal Lala, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation

How much is local investing even a focus for you now? If you are investing remotely in general now, are you filtering for local founders?

Prior to COVID-19 hitting, a requirement for the majority of my investments was a face-to-face visit with the founding team. For the most part, this meant founders spending time in Toronto. As we primarily invest in seed and pre-seed, this usually meant local founders.

When the pandemic hit, we shifted our process to primarily Zoom meetings (including due diligence) and as a result the mix of founding teams has expanded beyond our typical catchment area (two-hour drive from the city) to a broader base. Investment cycles appear to have slowed a bit due to the remote approach but our reach to founding teams has expanded to a broader base of geographically distributed founding teams (Mostly Canadian although we have recently seen a number of international opportunities).

Read More

Posted on

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?

Read More

Posted on

6 VCs share their bets on the future of work

As tech companies like Twitter and Facebook gear up for longer-term remote work solutions, the future of work is becoming one of the more exciting opportunities in venture capital, Charles River Ventures general partner Saar Gur told TechCrunch.

And as loneliness mounts with shelter-in-place orders implemented in various forms across the world, investors are looking for products and services that foster true connection among a distributed workforce, as well as a distributed society.

But the future of work doesn’t just entail spinning up home offices. It also involves gig workers, freelancers, hiring tools, tools for workplace organizing and automation. The last couple of years have particularly brought tech organizing to the forefront. Whether it was the Google walkout in 2018 or gig workers’ ongoing actions against companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart for better pay and protections, there are many opportunities to help workers better organize and achieve their goals.

Below, we’ve gathered insights from:

Saar Gur, Charles River Ventures 

What are you most excited about in the future of work?

Future of work is one of the most exciting opportunities in venture.  

Pre-COVID, few tech companies were fully remote. While it seems obvious in retrospect, the building blocks for fully remote technology companies now exist (e.g. high-speed internet, SaaS and the cloud, reliable video streaming, real-time documents, etc.). And while SIP may be temporary, we feel the TAM of fully remote companies will grow significantly and produce a number of exciting investment opportunities.

I don’t think we have fully grokked what it means to run a company digitally. Today, most processes like interviewing, meetings and performance/activity tracking still live in the world of atoms versus bits. As an example, imagine every meeting is recorded, transcribed and searchable — how would that transform how we work?   

There is an opportunity to re-imagine how we work. And we are excited about products that solve meaningful problems in the areas of productivity, brainstorming, communication tools, workflows and more. We also see a lot of potential in infrastructure required to facilitate remote and global teams.

We are also excited by companies that are enabling new types of work. Companies like Etsy (founded 2005), Shopify (2004), TaskTabbit (2008), Uber (2009), DoorDash (2013) and Patreon (2013) have helped create a new workforce of entrepreneurs. But many of these companies are over a decade old and we fully expect a new wave of companies that give more power to the individual.

Read More

Posted on

VCs see opportunities for gaming infrastructure startups and incumbents

As the infrastructure for developing games becomes more advanced, studios have turned to buying best-in-class technology from others instead of building everything from scratch (often with inferior quality).

This shift underpinned Unity’s rise as the most popular game engine. The current focus on games as ever-evolving social hubs that can remain popular for a decade requires investment in “live ops” to keep updating the game with new features and experiences, only adding to a game studio’s responsibilities.

There are big movements in gaming right now to make games cross-platform (not just restricted to mobile or PC or one console), incorporate new types of chat (in-game or outside of it) and to automatically remove bullies and bots among other things. Optimizing games’ virtual economies is only getting more complex as trade of virtual goods becomes increasingly popular.

All this means more opportunity for startups (and large incumbents) that provide new tools and platforms to game developers and gamers. To gauge which opportunities are prime for entrepreneurs, I asked four leading early-stage investors who focus on the gaming sector to share their analysis:

  • Sam Englebardt, Galaxy Interactive
  • Gigi Levy Weiss, NFX
  • Amit Kumar, Accel
  • Anton Backman, Play Ventures

Sam Englebardt, Galaxy Interactive

Which areas within gaming infrastructure seem firmly dominated by large incumbents, versus open for new startups to rise up?

I’m always rooting for the startup, but some of the really big and expensive infrastructure challenges seem unlikely to be solved by a startup, especially where the incumbents have a lead in time, money and the personnel they’re throwing at the problem. I’m thinking here, for example, about something like cloud computing, storage solutions, etc.

Read More

Posted on

Top investors predict what’s ahead for Boston’s VC scene in Q1

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the world and reshaped the economy, Boston was quietly setting records.

According to new venture data compiled by TechCrunch, the region set what was at least a local maximum in venture capital raised in the space of a single quarter in Q1 2020.

But while Boston’s startup market announced a number of huge rounds that bolstered its total venture dollars raised in the first quarter, there were signs of weakness: Deal volume was its best since Q2 2019, according to a set of data compiled and released by PwC and CB Insights, but was still a little under the pace set in 2018.

So Boston’s startups raised lots of money, but couldn’t match prior highs when it came to the number of checks written. And those results were largely recorded before COVID-19 shuttered the city. Since then, we’ve seen a number of area startups lay off staff, something we explored last week.

Now, with fresh data in hand, we can take a closer look at the city’s first quarter of 2020. To better understand what we’re unpacking, we asked a number of local venture capitalists to weigh in. Let’s look back at Boston’s Q1 as we stride into Q2 with the help of Venture Lane, .406 Ventures, Volition Capital and Flybridge Capital Partners.

The data

Starting with a programming note is counter-flow, but bear with us. TechCrunch is starting a regular, monthly series on Boston and its startup market. This is a second prelude of sorts. Normally we’d hold news and interviews for a later date so that we’d have plenty of material for a column. In the face of relentless change, however, we didn’t want to hold off on reporting and synthesizing new information. When things are more normal, our pace will follow.

Per PwC and CB Insights, here’s the last few quarters of data, along with a few yearly totals to draw you the picture we can now see:

Read More

Posted on

How 6 top VCs are adapting to the new uncertainty

As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.
But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors …

Read More