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Political strategist turned tech investor Bradley Tusk on SPACs as a tool for VCs

Bradley Tusk has become known in recent years for being involved in what’s about to get hot, from his early days advising Uber, to writing one of the first checks to the insurance startup Lemonade, to pushing forward the idea that we should be using the smart devices in our pockets to vote.

Indeed, because he’s often at the vanguard, it wasn’t hugely surprising when Tusk, like a growing number of other investors, formed a $300 million SPAC or special acquisition company, one that he and a partner plan to use to target a business in the leisure, gaming, or hospitality industry, according to a regulatory filing.

Because Tusk — a former political operative who ran the successful third mayoral campaign for Mike Bloomberg —  seems adept at seeing around corners, we called him up late last week to ask whether SPACs are here to stay, how a Biden administration might impact the startup investing landscape, and how worried (or not) big tech should be about this election. You can hear the full conversation here. Owing to length, we are featuring solely the part of our conversation that centered on SPACs.

TC: Lemonade went public this summer and its shares, priced at $29, now trade at $70. 

BT: They are down today last I checked. When you only check once in a blue moon, you’re like, ‘Hey, look at how great this is,’ whereas if, like me, you check me every day, you’re like, ‘It lost 4%, where’s my money?’

We got really lucky; Lemonade was our second deal that we did out of our first fund, and the fact that it IPO’d within four years of the company’s founding is pretty amazing.

TC: Is it amazing? I wonder what it says about the common complaint that the traditional IPO process is bad — is it just an excuse?

BT: [CEO] Daniel Schrieber was very clear that he and [cofounder] Shai Wininger had a strategy from day one to go public as quickly as they possibly could, because in his view, an IPO is supposed to represent kind of the the beginning. It’s the ‘Okay, we’ve proven that there’s product market fit, we’ve proven that there’s customer demand; now let’s see what we can really do with this thing.’ And it’s supposed to be about hope and promise and future and excitement. And if you’ve been a private company for 10 years, and you’re worth tens of billions of dollars and your growth is already starting to flatten out a little bit, it’s just much less exciting for public investors.

The question now for everyone in our business is what happens with Airbnb in a few weeks or whenever they are [staging an IPO]. Will that pixie dust be there, or will they have been around so long that the market is kind of indifferent?

TC: Is that why we’re seeing so many SPACs? Some of that pixie dust is gone. No one knows when the IPO window might shut. Let’s get some of these companies out into the public market while we still can?

BT: No, I don’t I don’t think so. I think SPACs have become a way to raise a lot of money very quickly. It took me two years to raise $37 million for my first venture fund, and three months was the entire process for me to raise $300 million for my SPAC. So it’s a mechanism that is highly efficient and right now is so popular with public market investors that there is just a lot of opportunity, and people are grabbing it. In fact, now you’re hearing about people who are planning SPACs having to pull [them] back because there’s a ton of competition right now.

At the end of the day, the fundamentals still rule. If you take a really bad company public through a SPAC, maybe the excitement of the SPAC gets you an early pop. But if the company has neither good unit economics nor high growth, there’s no real reason to believe it will be successful. And especially for the people in the SPAC, where they have to hold on to it for a little while, by the time the lockup ends, the world has probably figured out that this is not the greatest IPO of all time. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

TC: You say you raised the SPAC very quickly. How is the investor profile different than that of a typical venture fund investor?

BT:  The investors for this SPAC — at least when I did the roadshow, and I think I did 28 meetings over a couple of days — is mainly hedge funds and people who don’t really invest in venture at all, so there was no overlap between my [venture fund] LP base and the people who invested in our SPAC that I’m aware of. These are public market investors who are used to moving very quickly. There’s a lot more liquidity in a SPAC. We have two years to acquire something, but ultimately, it’s a public property, so investors can come in and out as they see fit.

TC: So it’s mostly hedge funds that are getting paid management fees to deploy their capital in this comparatively safe way and that are getting interest on the money invested, too, while it’s sitting around in a trust while [the SPAC managers] look for a target company.

BT: Why it kind of does make sense for [them to back] VCs is they are basically making the bet to say: does this person running the SPAC have enough deal flow, enough of a public profile, enough going on that they are going to come across the right target? And venture investors in many ways fit that profile because we just look at so many companies before deploying capital.

TC: Do you have to demonstrate some kind of public markets expertise in order to convince some of these investors that you know what it takes to take a company public and grow it in the public markets?

BT: I guess. We raised the money, so I guess I passed the test. But I did spend a little under two years on Wall Street; I created the lottery privatization group of Lehman Brothers. And my partner [in the SPAC], Christian Goode, has a lot of experience with big gaming companies. But overall, I think that if you are a venture investor with a ton of deal flow and a good track record but very little or no public market experience, I don’t know that that would disqualify you from being able to rate a SPAC.

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Lemonade and Accolade open sharply higher as public markets rally

Despite today’s bucket of plus-and-minus economic data, stocks are heading higher in regular trading. And among the shares rising the most are today’s two venture-backed IPOs: Lemonade and Accolade.

TechCrunch wrote this morning that the firms’ aggressive IPO pricing arcs boded well for the IPO market itself, that investors were willing to price growth-y shares of unprofitable companies with vigor, which could help other companies looking at the public markets get off the sidelines.

Then the two companies opened sharply higher, and at the current moment stand as follows (Data via Yahoo Finance):

  • Lemonade: $61.62 per share, up $32.62 or 112.48%
  • Accolade: $34.39 per share, up $12.39 or 56.32%

Yep those are big numbers.

Expect the regular round of complaints that the firms were mispriced (maybe) and could have charged more from their equity in their public debuts (again, maybe). But for the two companies, it’s still a lovely day. Pricing above range and then seeing public investors frantically bid your equity higher is much better than the alternatives.

How the companies will fare when they report earnings (Q3 is upon us, making Q2’s earnings cycle just around the bend) will help settle their real valuations. But, for today at least, Lemonade and Accolade have done their yet-private brethren a solid by going up and not down.

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Insurtech unicorn Lemonade raises IPO range ahead of debut

Ahead of its expected IPO pricing later today, SoftBank-backed insurtech startup Lemonade has raised its expected price range. After initially targeting $23 to $26 per share in its debut, Lemonade now intends to sell its equity for $26 to $28 per share.


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The new range boosts Lemonade’s expected value, a boon for insurtech startups like Root, Kin, MetroMile, Hippo and others. Had Lemonade been forced to reduce its pricing, the valuations of its contemporaries could have come under pressure when they went to raise more capital. But with Lemonade noting that the market will bear a higher price for its equity, it’s a good day for startups looking to rebuild insurance products in a digital-first manner.

This morning, let’s work out the Lemonade’s new valuation range, compare it to the company’s final private valuation and figure out if we can understand why the stock market may support the company at its new price. After that, we’ll share a few notes from folks about the IPO and how they think it might go, just for fun.

Upward

Lemonade intends on selling 11 million shares as before, so the company is not targeting a larger bloc of shares to disburse. At its new price range, Lemonade will sell shares worth between $286 million and $308 million, a few dozen million more at the top end of its new range than it had anticipated with its first IPO pricing interval ($253 million and $286 million).

The company has two valuation ranges: one without the 1.65 million shares its underwriters may purchase at its IPO price if they choose, and one including those shares. Without the extra equity, Lemonade is aiming at a $1.43 billion to $1.54 billion valuation; including the extra equity, Lemonade is worth $1.47 billion to $1.58 billion.

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Kicking off 2020 with 4 new members of the $100M ARR club

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re adding four new names to the growing $100 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) club. The firms — Sisense, SiteMinder, Monday.com, and Lemonade — add diversity to our current group of yet-private companies which have reached the nine-figure recurring revenue threshold.

Our goal in tracking the companies in this high-flying cohort is to keep tabs on the private firms (often unicorns, it should be said) that could go public if needed. While not every unicorn will or could go public, companies with nine-figure ARR have a clear path to the public markets provided that their economics are in reasonable shape.

And we’ve seen some remarkably efficient companies meet the mark, including Egnyte with just $137.5 million raised, and Braze, with only $175 million on its books. For growth-oriented, venture-backed companies, those are efficient results.

But let’s add a few more members to the club today. Please meet our new centurions, centaurs, or whatever we end up calling them.

Sisense: more than $100 million ARR

Sisense is a business intelligence company that merged with Periscope Data earlier this year. The combined firm has raised just over $200 million, according to Crunchbase, with the lion’s share of that landing in Sisense’s column (about $175 million).

What’s notable about the combination is that the two firms were public about saying that, when brought together, they would have combined ARR of $100 million. That was back in May. Today, Sisense has crested the $100 million mark by itself, according to an interview with TechCrunch. With Periscope added to the mix the company’s total ARR is naturally higher.

Sisense had a few original goals according to CEO Amir Orad, including helping businesses “take complex data and bring it together to get insights.” Its second focus is helping companies “take complex data sets and build [them out] as an analytical application in their products,” he said.

Periscope came into the picture when Orad and the smaller company’s CEO Harry Glaser (now Sisense’s CMO) started talking as friends about their respective markets. According to Orad, Glasser outlined a new sort of organization being built inside some companies that “were not traditional BI teams” or “traditional product teams,” but instead brought together “data engineers and data scientists and very capable individuals who [wanted] to make sense of [the] data sitting in the cloud.” Periscope had built “a very impressive business” supporting those new organizations, with “many hundreds of customers,” Orad said.

That meant that Sisense’s pair of focuses were somewhat two of out three, making the corporate combination an obvious bet.

Regarding what changed as Sisense grew, cresting the $50 million ARR mark and later the $100 million ARR mark, Orad told TechCrunch that what differed was “scale,” saying that at its size “what you do impacts more people, more individuals, more companies, [and] more customers.” (I have interesting notes on how the two companies managed their combination from a culture perspective, let me know if you’d like to read them.)

SiteMinder: AU$100 million ARR

The first Australian member of the nine-figure ARR club is SiteMinder, which we’re letting in on a technicality; the firm’s ARR figure is in Australian dollars, which works out to around $70 million USD. However, its growth curve appears steep so we’re not too worried about including it a little early from a domestic dollar perspective.

Source: TechCrunch