The Utah Jazz, an NBA basketball team based in Salt Lake City, announced today that Qualitrics CEO and co-founder Ryan Smith was buying a majority stake in the team along other properties. ESPN is reporting the deal is worth $1.6 billion.
Smith can afford it. He sold Qualtrics, which is based in Provo, Utah, in 2018 to SAP for $8 billion just before the startup was about to go public. Earlier this year, SAP announced plans to spin out Qualtrics as public company.
In addition to The Jazz, he’s also getting Vivint Arena, the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League team Salt Lake City Stars and management of the Triple-A baseball affiliate Salt Lake Bees. Smith is buying the properties from the Miller family, who have run them for over three decades.
Smith was over the moon about being able to buy into a franchise he has supported over the years. “My wife and I are absolutely humbled and excited about the opportunity to take the team forward far into the future – especially with the greatest fans in the NBA. The Utah Jazz, the state of Utah, and its capital city are the beneficiaries of the Millers’ tremendous love, generosity and investment. We look forward to building upon their lifelong work,” he said in a statement.
The deal is pending approval of the NBA Board Governors, but once that happens, Smith will have full decision making authority over the franchise.
Qualtrics, which makes customer survey tools, was founded in 2002 and raised over $400 million from firms like Accel, Insight Partners and Sequoia before selling the company two years ago to SAP.
Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team.
Mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to home in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta.
It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters.
Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox.
Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform.
Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better.
“There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in-person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.”
That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality.
“There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?”
Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Pol Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech.
Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus.
Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. Other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes).
That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming.
Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more.
Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events.
And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging.
That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platforms from the ground up.
Mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month.
Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started.
“We’re looking at this not so much as consolidation, which to me means market share,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”
This morning, YCharts, a financial data and charting service, announced that it has been purchased by LLR Partners, a private equity firm.
The companies are dubbing the transaction a “growth recapitalization,” indicating that the smaller firm won’t be stripped of its talent in hopes of driving near-term positive EBITDA. The deal was an all-cash transaction, TechCrunch confirmed.
Digging into YCharts itself, the company told TechCrunch via email that it expects to “surpass” $15 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) this year, and that it has been growing top line at a compound annual growth rate of 30 to 40% for “the past several years.”
Those figures imply that YCharts did not sell for cheap. At the market’s current multiples, YCharts was likely worth between 10 and 20x times its ARR, making the deal (presuming, say, $13.5 million ARR at the time of the sale) worth between $135 million and $270 million, unless LLR managed to secure a discount, or the firm’s economics were worse than we’d imagine from our current remove.
The companies declined to share details of the transaction, including price.
As a somewhat long-term YCharts user — the startup set up custom colors in my account so that I could share charts in TechCrunch green, which was fun — the deal is notable in that I’ve come to appreciate what the service is capable of; it’s a great tool to create charts that encompass a wealth of financial data to make a clear point, like the historical trends in Tesla’s price/sales ratio compared to other automotive players, for example.
Financial tooling that is accessible, and shareable, is rare in our Bloomberg world. So here’s to hoping that the transactions promised investment into YCharts bears out.
Turning to the why, I asked YCharts why it didn’t merely raise external capital instead of selling itself. YCharts’ CEO Sean Brown wrote that he’s “found that capital is easy to get,” but that “LLR Partners provides [YCharts] with much more than just capital.” The investing group, Brown continued, shares his company’s vision, has “strong domain experience,” along with “a dedicated team focused on fintech, and a ton of relevant strategic and operational expertise.”
The CEO also stressed LLR’s prior investments into other fintech companies, and said that “as part of the buyout of our existing shareholders, LLR will be funding capital to YCharts’ balance sheet to support continued investment in product and sales [and] marketing.”
YCharts raised capital as an independent company across a number of rounds, including a 2010 Series A led by Hyde Park Angels and I2A Fund, and a Series B and C led by Morningstar. The company had around $15 million in known capital raised, according to Crunchbase data.
Nvidia is in the process of acquiring chip designer Arm for $40 billion. Coincidentally, both companies are also holding their respective developer conferences this week. After he finished his keynote at the Arm DevSummit, I sat down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the company.
Segars noted that the two companies started talking in earnest around May 2020, though at first, only a small group of executives was involved. Nvidia, he said, was really the first suitor to make a real play for the company — with the exception of SoftBank, of course, which took Arm private back in 2016 — and combining the two companies, he believes, simply makes a lot of sense at this point in time.
“They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that,” Segars said. “So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.”
The data center market, where Nvidia, too, is already a major player, is also an area where Arm has heavily focused in recent years. And while it goes up against the likes of Intel, Segars is optimistic. “We’re not in it to be a bit player,” he said. “Our goal is to get a material market share and I think the proof to the pudding is there.”
He also expects that in a few years, we’ll see Arm-powered servers available on all of the major clouds. Right now, AWS is ahead in this game with its custom-built Gravitron processors. Microsoft and Google do not currently offer Arm-based servers.
“With each passing day, more and more of the software infrastructure that’s required for the cloud is getting ported over and optimized for Arm. So it becomes a more and more compelling proposition for sure,” he said, and cited both performance and energy efficiency as reasons for cloud providers to use Arm chips.
Another interesting aspect of the deal is that we may just see Arm sell some of Nvidia’s IP as well. That would be a big change — and a first — for Nvidia, but Segars believes it makes a lot of sense to do so.
“It may be that there is something in the portfolio of Nvidia that they currently sell as a chip that we may look at and go, ‘you know, what if we package that up as an IP product, without modifying it? There’s a market for that.’ Or it may be that there’s a thing in here where if we take that and combine it with something else that we were doing, we can make a better product or expand the market for the technology. I think it’s going to be more of the latter than it is the former because we design all our products to be delivered as IP.”
And while he acknowledged that Nvidia and Arm still face some regulatory hurdles, he believes the deal will be pro-competitive in the end — and that the regulators will see it the same way.
He does not believe, by the way, that the company will face any issues with Chinese companies not being able to license Arm’s designs because of export restrictions, something a lot of people were worried about when the deal was first announced.
“Export control of a product is all about where was it designed and who designed it,” he said. “And of course, just because your parent company changes, doesn’t change those fundamental properties of the underlying product. So we analyze all our products and look at how much U.S. content is in there, to what extent are our products subject to U.S. export control, U.K. export control, other export control regimes? It’s a full-time piece of work to make sure we stay on top of that.”
Here are some excerpts from our 30-minute conversation:
TechCrunch: Walk me through how that deal came about? What was the timeline for you?
Simon Segars: I think probably around May, June time was when it really kicked off. We started having some early discussions. And then, as these things progress, you suddenly kind of hit the ‘Okay, now let’s go.’ We signed a sort of first agreement to actually go into due diligence and then it really took off. It went from a few meetings, a bit of negotiation, to suddenly heads down and a broader set of people — but still a relatively small number of people involved, answering questions. We started doing due diligence documents, just the mountain of stuff that you go through and you end up with a document. [Segars shows a print-out of the contract, which is about the size of two phone books.]
You must have had suitors before this. What made you decide to go ahead with this deal this time around?
Well, to be honest, in Arm’s history, there’s been a lot of rumors about people wanting to acquire Arm, but really until SoftBank in 2016, nobody ever got serious. I can’t think of a case where somebody actually said, ‘come on, we want to try and negotiate a deal here.’ And so it’s been four years under SoftBank’s ownership and that’s been really good because we’ve been able to do what we said we were going to do around investing much more aggressively in the technology. We’ve had a relationship with Nvidia for a long time. [Rene Haas, Arm’s president of its Intellectual Property Group, who previously worked at Nvidia] has had a relationship with [Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang] for a long time. They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that. So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.
How does it change the trajectory you were on before for Arm?
Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.
Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239 million in the same period of 2019.
Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9% and GPI Capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.
While Postmates and Uber continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressure in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB 5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”
Every founder dreams of building a substantial company. For those who make it through the myriad challenges, it typically results in an exit. If it’s through an acquisition, that can mean cashing in your equity, paying back investors and rewarding long-time employees, but it also usually results in a loss of power and a substantially reduced role.
Some founders hang around for a while before leaving after an agreed-upon time period, while others depart right away because there is simply no role left for them. However it plays out, being acquired can be an emotional shock: The company you spent years building is no longer under your control,
We spoke to a couple of startup founders who went through this experience to learn what the acquisition process was like, and how it feels to give up something after pouring your heart and soul into building it.
Knowing when it’s time to sell
There has to be some impetus to think about selling: Perhaps you’ve reached a point where growth stalls, or where you need to raise a substantial amount of cash to take you to the next level.
For Tracy Young, co-founder and former CEO at PlanGrid, the forcing event was reaching a point where she needed to raise funds to continue.
After growing a company that helped digitize building plans into a $100 million business, Young ended up selling it to Autodesk for $875 million in 2018. It was a substantial exit, but Young said it was more of a practical matter because the path to further growth was going to be an arduous one.
“As CEO, [my] job is to choose the best path forward for all stakeholders of the company — for our investors, for our team members, for our customers — and that was the path we chose.”
For Rami Essaid, who founded bot mitigation platform Distil Networks in 2011, slowing growth encouraged him to consider an exit. The company had reached around $25 million run rate, but a lack of momentum meant that shifting to a broader product portfolio would have been too heavy a lift.
While none of those names mean anything to yours truly, they may mean something to our friendly readers to the North. However, I have heard of Qdoba, Wahlburgers and Red Robin. And Canadian customers can also pick up Impossible Foods -based menu items at those chains too.
Since its debut at Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now served in 30,000 restaurants across the U.S. and is available in 11,000 grocery stores across America.
The Silicon Valley manufacturer of meat substitutes expects that Canada, the company’s first market outside of Asia, may become its largest market — second only to the U.S.
The deal has a couple of intricacies. SoftBank will immediately receive $2 billion in cash for signing the deal. From there, it will receive another $10 billion in cash and $21.5 billion of stock in Nvidia at closing. That stake will be likely just a bit shy of 10% of the company. In addition, SoftBank is slated to earn $5 billion in a mix of cash and stock as a performance-based earn-out. Conditions or timing for that earn-out were not disclosed.
Nvidia is buying all of Arm’s product groups except for its Internet of Things division, which was one of several areas where Arm has striven in recent years to expand as it attempts to grow outside of its core mobile chip design business.
Owing to the complex ownership structure and the multiple countries involved, closing is expect to take one and a half years, and will require regulatory and antitrust approvals in the U.S., the United Kingdom where Arm is headquartered, China, and the European Union.
Nvidia’s statement made clear that it intends to double down on the United Kingdom as a core part of its engineering efforts, a positioning that almost certainly is designed to placate concerns emanating from Downing Street about the competitiveness of the British economy in tech services following the country’s departure from the EU as it completes Brexit later this year.
Nvidia said that Arm’s offices in Cambridge will expand, and that the company intends to “[establish] a new global center of excellence in AI research at Arm’s Cambridge campus.”
The deal will provide some immediate cash relief to SoftBank, which has been working hard to clean up its balance sheet after a string of high-profile losses. The heavy Nvidia stock component of the deal will see SoftBank returning as a major investor in the company. The Japanese telco had previously held a 4.9% stake in Nvidia in its Vision Fund, which was disposed of in 2019 for a return of $3.3 billion.
While the big deal we have been tracking the past few weeks has been TikTok, there was another massive deal under negotiation that mirrors some of the international tech dynamics that have plagued the consumer social app’s sale.
A couple of thoughts while we wait for official confirmation from Nvidia, Arm, and SoftBank.
First, Arm has struggled to turn its wildly successful chip designs — which today power billions of new chips a year — into a fast-growth company. As we discussed back in May, the company has ploddingly entered new growth markets, and while it has had some notable brand successes including Apple announcing that Arm-powered processor designs would be coming to the company’s iconic Macintosh lineup, those wins haven’t translated into significant profits.
SoftBank took a wild swing back in 2016 buying the company. If $40 billion is indeed the price, it’s a 25% gain in roughly four years. Given SoftBank’s recent notorious investing track record, that actually looks stellar, but of course, there was a huge opportunity cost for the company to buy such a pricy asset. Nvidia, which SoftBank’s Vision Fund bought a public stake in, has seen its stock price zoom more than 16x in that time frame, driven by AI and blockchain applications.
Second, assuming a deal is consummated, it’s a somewhat quiet denouement for one of the truly category-defining companies that has emanated out of the United Kingdom. The chip designer, which is based in Cambridge and has deep ties to the leading British university, has been seen as a symbol of Britain’s long legacy at the frontiers of computer science, in which Alan Turing played a key role in the development of computability.
Arm’s sale comes just as the UK government gears up for a fight with the European Union over its industrial policy, and specifically deeper funding for precisely the kinds of technologies that Arm was developing. Arm of course isn’t likely to migrate its workforce, but its ownership by an American semiconductor giant versus a Japanese holding company will likely end its relatively independent operations.
Third and finally, the deal would give Nvidia a dominant position in the semiconductor market, bringing together the company’s strength in graphics and AI processing workflows along with Arm’s underlying chip designs. While the company would not be fully vertically integrated, the combination would intensify Nvidia’s place as one of the major centers of gravity in chips.
It’s also a symbol of how far Intel has fallen behind its once diminutive peer. Intel’s market cap is about $210 billion, compared to Nvidia’s $300 billion. Intel’s stock is practically a straight line compared to Nvidia’s rapid growth the past few years, and this news isn’t likely to be well-received in Intel HQ.
Given the international politics involved and the sensitivity about the company, any deal would have to go through customary antitrust reviews in multiple countries, as well as potential national security reviews in the UK.
For SoftBank, it’s another sign of the company’s retrenchment in the face of extreme losses. But at least for now, it has a likely win on its hands.
If you can’t keep up with the latest rumor mill on TikTok’s impending doom acquisition, my suggestion is simple: don’t. Or instead, enjoy it for what it is: one of the most absurd bakeoff deals in investment banking history.
Walmart and its always low prices are in the fray. Oracle is looking to find synergies to make enterprise resource planning software more enticing to Gen Z workers. Triller — who the hell are they again? — is supposedly teaming up with an asset management firm (and a planet near the Hoth system) called Centricus according to Bloomberg (to which TikTok responded nah). Twitter is in — maybe? — with key corporate strategic advice from Beyoncé on the social network’s debt underwriting strategy.
Everything here is absurd. TikTok is absurd. The videos of people doing what they are doing on TikTok are absurd. TikTok’s growth is absurd. A president setting a deadline on the sale of a company is absurd. This process is absurd. Selling a company as large as TikTok in 45 days is absurd. Walmart is absurd (and also a mirage, since they are still banned from New York City lest someone gets discounted soap in a pandemic).
I warned a few weeks ago to “beware bankers” peddling TikTok rumors. And that’s still the right answer, in the sense that of course we are going to get to the furthest reaches of the M&A universe as bankers try to salvage TikTok’s final sale price (“We’re approaching the Centricus system, sir!”). But that approach is so much more boring than just assuming that every rumor is true and trying to imagine Wall Street advisors trundling through this morass of bids.
My advice here is simple: let’s all take our analyst hats off for a week and put on our clown costumes, since — and it’s key you don’t work at TikTok for this or have money at stake in the company — this story is actually enjoyable.
COVID-19 is serious, the U.S. presidential election is weeks away, social justice in our cities is critically important. Just in the past few hours, T’Challa passed away, Hurricane Laura ripped up the Gulf Coast, and the longest continuously-serving Japanese prime minister of the post-war era (yes, I know, that’s a lot of qualifiers) just resigned due to health issues. It can get weighty on the front pages of the newspapers these days.
So it’s just nice to know that you can flip to the business pages and get some farce.
Maybe this whole story will eventually turn into the next great business book à la Barbarians at the Gate. But at least the barbarians then knew how to destroy a company with the proper levels of debt leverage. Here, you’ve got the pre-smoldered detritus of a business being bid on by the company that brought us The Greeter.
Whatever this saga brings next (hint: Microsoft buying the company), I’ll just say this: the warmth and cheeriness that TikTok provided millions of teenagers though short videos of awakward dance routines is the same mirth that it provides acerbic financial analysts with a caustic eye on the markets. In what has been a miserable year for all of us, for that small twinkle of amusement, I’m thankful.