Category Archives: founders fund

Postmates lines up another $100M ahead of IPO

Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, has raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation, as first reported by Recode and confirmed to TechCrunch by Postmates. The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that finally knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

New investor BlackRock has joined the funding round alongside Tiger Global, which served as the lead investor of Postmates’ September financing. Led by co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann, the company has garnered a total of $681 million in venture capital funding from investors, including Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital and Slow Ventures.

In line with several other tech unicorns, Postmates has begun prep for an initial public offering that could come this year, including tapping JPMorgan to advise the float. As Recode pointed out, the $100 million capital infusion was probably less of a necessary funding event but rather an opportunity for existing investors to liquidate stock ahead of an exit.

Postmates, which completes 3.5 million deliveries per month, reportedly expected to record $400 million in revenue in 2018 on food sales of $1.2 billion. The company has not confirmed that figure nor disclosed any other 2018 revenue numbers. The company currently operates in more than 500 cities, recently tacking on another 100 markets to reach an additional 50 million customers.

It will be interesting to see how Wall Street responds to a Postmates public listing. Though it was an early player in what has become an extremely crowded market, Postmates never emerged as the leader in food delivery. Now, with supergiants like Uber dominating via Uber Eats and SoftBank funneling loads of capital into Postmates competitor DoorDash, it shouldn’t count on an oversubscribed IPO.

How did Thumbtack win the on-demand services market?

Earlier today, the services marketplace Thumbtack held a small conference for 300 of its best gig economy workers at an event space in San Francisco.

For the nearly ten-year-old company the event was designed to introduce some new features and a redesign of its brand that had softly launched earlier in the week. On hand, in addition to the services professionals who’d paid their way from locations across the U.S. were the company’s top executives.

It’s the latest step in the long journey that Thumbtack took to become one of the last companies standing with a consumer facing marketplace for services.

Back in 2008, as the global financial crisis was only just beginning to tear at the fabric of the U.S. economy, entrepreneurs at companies like Thumbtack andTaskRabbit were already hard at work on potential patches.

This was the beginning of what’s now known as the gig economy. In addition to Thumbtack and TaskRabbit, young companies like Handy, Zaarly, and several others — all began by trying to build better marketplaces for buyers and sellers of services. Their timing, it turns out, was prescient.

In snowy Boston during the winter of 2008, Kevin Busque and his wife Leah were building RunMyErrand, the marketplace service that would become TaskRabbit, as a way to avoid schlepping through snow to pick up dog food .

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Marco Zappacosta, a young entrepreneur whose parents were the founders of Logitech, and a crew of co-founders including were building Thumbtack, a professional services marketplace from a home office they shared.

As these entrepreneurs built their businesses in northern California (amid the early years of a technology renaissance fostered by patrons made rich from returns on investments in companies like Google and Salesforce.com), the rest of America was stumbling.

In the two years between 2008 and 2010 the unemployment rate in America doubled, rising from 5% to 10%. Professional services workers were hit especially hard as banks, insurance companies, realtors, contractors, developers and retailers all retrenched — laying off staff as the economy collapsed under the weight of terrible loans and a speculative real estate market.

Things weren’t easy for Thumbtack’s founders at the outset in the days before its $1.3 billion valuation and last hundred plus million dollar round of funding. “One of the things that really struck us about the team, was just how lean they were. At the time they were operating out of a house, they were still cooking meals together,” said Cyan Banister, one of the company’s earliest investors and a partner at the multi-billion dollar venture firm, Founders Fund.

“The only thing they really ever spent money on, was food… It was one of these things where they weren’t extravagant, they were extremely purposeful about every dollar that they spent,” Banister said. “They basically slept at work, and were your typical startup story of being under the couch. Every time I met with them, the story was, in the very early stages was about the same for the first couple years, which was, we’re scraping Craigslist, we’re starting to get some traction.”

The idea of powering a Craigslist replacement with more of a marketplace model was something that appealed to Thumbtack’s earliest investor and champion, the serial entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calcanis.

Thumbtack chief executive Marco Zappacosta

“I remember like it was yesterday when Marco showed me Thumbtack and I looked at this and I said, ‘So, why are you building this?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you go on Craigslist, you know, it’s like a crap shoot. You post, you don’t know. You read a post… you know… you don’t know how good the person is. There’re no reviews.’” Calcanis said. “He had made a directory. It wasn’t the current workflow you see in the app — that came in year three I think. But for the first three years, he built a directory. And he showed me the directory pages where he had a photo of the person, the services provided, the bio.”

The first three years were spent developing a list of vendors that the company had verified with a mailing address, a license, and a certificate of insurance for people who needed some kind of service. Those three features were all Calcanis needed to validate the deal and pull the trigger on an initial investment.

“That’s when I figured out my personal thesis of angel investing,” Calcanis said.

“Some people are market based; some people want to invest in certain demographics or psychographics; immigrant kids or Stanford kids, whatever. Mine is just, ‘Can you make a really interesting product and are your decisions about that product considered?’ And when we discuss those decisions, do I feel like you’re the person who should build this product for the world And it’s just like there’s a big sign above Marco’s head that just says ‘Winner! Winner! Winner!’”

Indeed, it looks like Zappacosta and his company are now running what may be their victory lap in their tenth year as a private company. Thumbtack will be profitable by 2019 and has rolled out a host of new products in the last six months.

Their thesis, which flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the day, was to build a product which offered listings of any service a potential customer could want in any geography across the U.S. Other companies like Handy and TaskRabbit focused on the home, but on Thumbtack (like any good community message board) users could see postings for anything from repairman to reiki lessons and magicians to musicians alongside the home repair services that now make up the bulk of its listings.

“It’s funny, we had business plans and documents that we wrote and if you look back, the vision that we outlined then, is very similar to the vision we have today. We honestly looked around and we said, ‘We want to solve a problem that impacts a huge number of people. The local services base is super inefficient. It’s really difficult for customers to find trustworthy, reliable people who are available for the right price,’” said Sander Daniels, a co-founder at the company. 

“For pros, their number one concern is, ‘Where do I put money in my pocket next? How do I put food on the table for my family next?’ We said, ‘There is a real human problem here. If we can connect these people to technology and then, look around, there are these global marketplace for products: Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, why can’t there be a global marketplace for services?’ It sounded crazy to say it at the time and it still sounds crazy to say, but that is what the dream was.”

Daniels acknowledges that the company changed the direction of its product, the ways it makes money, and pivoted to address issues as they arose, but the vision remained constant. 

Meanwhile, other startups in the market have shifted their focus. Indeed as Handy has shifted to more of a professional services model rather than working directly with consumers and TaskRabbit has been acquired by Ikea, Thumbtack has doubled down on its independence and upgrading its marketplace with automation tools to make matching service providers with customers that much easier.

Late last year the company launched an automated tool serving up job requests to its customers — the service providers that pay the company a fee for leads generated by people searching for services on the company’s app or website.

Thumbtack processes about $1 billion a year in business for its service providers in roughly 1,000 professional categories.

Now, the matching feature is getting an upgrade on the consumer side. Earlier this month the company unveiled Instant Results — a new look for its website and mobile app — that uses all of the data from its 200,000 services professionals to match with the 30 professionals that best correspond to a request for services. It’s among the highest number of professionals listed on any site, according to Zappacosta. The next largest competitor, Yelp, has around 115,000 listings a year. Thumbtack’s professionals are active in a 90 day period.

Filtering by price, location, tools and schedule, anyone in the U.S. can find a service professional for their needs. It’s the culmination of work processing nine years and 25 million requests for services from all of its different categories of jobs.

It’s a long way from the first version of Thumbtack, which had a “buy” tab and a “sell” tab; with the “buy” side to hire local services and the “sell” to offer them.

“From the very early days… the design was to iterate beyond the traditional model of business listing directors. In that, for the consumer to tell us what they were looking for and we would, then, find the right people to connect them to,” said Daniels. “That functionality, the request for quote functionality, was built in from v.1 of the product. If you tried to use it then, it wouldn’t work. There were no businesses on the platform to connect you with. I’m sure there were a million bugs, the UI and UX were a disaster, of course. That was the original version, what I remember of it at least.”

It may have been a disaster, but it was compelling enough to get the company its $1.2 million angel round — enough to barely develop the product. That million dollar investment had to last the company through the nuclear winter of America’s recession years, when venture capital — along with every other investment class — pulled back.

“We were pounding the pavement trying to find somebody to give us money for a Series A round,” Daniels said. “That was a very hard period of the company’s life when we almost went out of business, because nobody would give us money.”

That was a pre-revenue period for the company, which experimented with four revenue streams before settling on the one that worked the best. In the beginning the service was free, and it slowly transitioned to a commission model. Then, eventually, the company moved to a subscription model where service providers would pay the company a certain amount for leads generated off of Thumbtack.

“We weren’t able to close the loop,” Daniels said. “To make commissions work, you have to know who does the job, when, for how much. There are a few possible ways to collect all that information, but the best one, I think, is probably by hosting payments through your platform. We actually built payments into the platform in 2011 or 2012. We had significant transaction volume going through it, but we then decided to rip it out 18 months later, 24 months later, because, I think we had kind of abandoned the hope of making commissions work at that time.”

While Thumbtack was struggling to make its bones, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest were raking in cash. The founders thought that they could also access markets in the same way, but investors weren’t interested in a consumer facing business that required transactions — not advertising — to work. User generated content and social media were the rage, but aside from Uber and Lyft the jury was still out on the marketplace model.

“For our company that was not a Facebook or a Twitter or Pinterest, at that time, at least, that we needed revenue to show that we’re going to be able to monetize this,” Daniels said. “We had figured out a way to sign up pros at enormous scale and consumers were coming online, too. That was showing real promise. We said, ‘Man, we’re a hot ticket, we’re going to be able to raise real money.’ Then, for many reasons, our inexperience, our lack of revenue model, probably a bunch of stuff, people were reluctant to give us money.”

The company didn’t focus on revenue models until the fall of 2011, according to Daniels. Then after receiving rejection after rejection the company’s founders began to worry. “We’re like, ‘Oh, shit.’ November of 2009 we start running these tests, to start making money, because we might not be able to raise money here. We need to figure out how to raise cash to pay the bills, soon,” Daniels recalled. 

The experience of almost running into the wall put the fear of god into the company. They managed to scrape out an investment from Javelin, but the founders were convinced that they needed to find the right revenue number to make the business work with or without a capital infusion. After a bunch of deliberations, they finally settled on $350,000 as the magic number to remain a going concern.

“That was the metric that we were shooting towards,” said Daniels. “It was during that period that we iterated aggressively through these revenue models, and, ultimately, landed on a paper quote. At the end of that period then Sequoia invested, and suddenly, pros supply and consumer demand and revenue model all came together and like, ‘Oh shit.’”

Finding the right business model was one thing that saved the company from withering on the vine, but another choice was the one that seemed the least logical — the idea that the company should focus on more than just home repairs and services.

The company’s home category had lots of competition with companies who had mastered the art of listing for services on Google and getting results. According to Daniels, the company couldn’t compete at all in the home categories initially.

“It turned out, randomly … we had no idea about this … there was not a similarly well developed or mature events industry,” Daniels said. “We outperformed in events. It was this strategic decision, too, that, on all these 1,000 categories, but it was random, that over the last five years we are the, if not the, certainly one of the leading events service providers in the country. It just happened to be that we … I don’t want to say stumbled into it … but we found these pockets that were less competitive and we could compete in and build a business on.”

The focus on geographical and services breadth — rather than looking at building a business in a single category or in a single geography meant that Zappacosta and company took longer to get their legs under them, but that they had a much wider stance and a much bigger base to tap as they began to grow.

“Because of naivete and this dreamy ambition that we’re going to do it all. It was really nothing more strategic or complicated than that,” said Daniels. “When we chose to go broad, we were wandering the wilderness. We had never done anything like this before.”

From the company’s perspective, there were two things that the outside world (and potential investors) didn’t grasp about its approach. The first was that a perfect product may have been more competitive in a single category, but a good enough product was better than the terrible user experiences that were then on the market. “You can build a big company on this good enough product, which you can then refine over the course of time to be greater and greater,” said Daniels.

The second misunderstanding is that the breadth of the company let it scale the product that being in one category would have never allowed Thumbtack to do. Cross selling and upselling from carpet cleaners to moving services to house cleaners to bounce house rentals for parties — allowed for more repeat use.

More repeat use meant more jobs for services employees at a time when unemployment was still running historically high. Even in 2011, unemployment remained stubbornly high. It wasn’t until 2013 that the jobless numbers began their steady decline.

There’s a question about whether these gig economy jobs can keep up with the changing times. Now, as unemployment has returned to its pre-recession levels, will people want to continue working in roles that don’t offer health insurance or retirement benefits? The answer seems to be “yes” as the Thumbtack platform continues to grow and Uber and Lyft show no signs of slowing down.

“At the time, and it still remains one of my biggest passions, I was interested in how software could create new meaningful ways of working,” said Banister of the Thumbtack deal. “That’s the criteria I was looking for, which is, does this shift how people find work? Because I do believe that we can create jobs and we can create new types of jobs that never existed before with the platforms that we have today.”

A16Z and Founders Fund sink $28M into IRL asset blockchain Harbor

Harbor helps businesses legally issue cryptocurrency tokens that represent ownership of real-world assets like real estate, fine art, company equity, and investment funds. This “tokenization” might sound boring, but it could be a big business that unlocks trading of illiquid property.

Harbor‘s intention to become a fundamental bridge between the offline and crypto economies has attracted a $28 million strategic round led by Founders Fund and joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Pantera Capital, and more. Following its $10 million Series A in February, Harbor has now raised over $40 million to dissolve the legal barriers to private securities tokenization.

“We think there’s going be a far greater appetite for owning real-world assets using the blockchain” than digital only cryptocurrencies, Harbor CEO Joshua Stein tells me. He expects it be like the impact “email had on snail mail”, but with value instead of content being sent back and forth. Once someone like Harbor handles the technical necessities to make transfers instant, free, and secure, people will exchange a lot more frequently.

The Harbor team

Here’s how Harbor works. Clients pay it in cash to make their tokenization of an IRL private security legal. Traditional trading of these assets can be complicated and expensive given there are often financial regulations or licensing requirements restricting who can buy and sell them. For example, foreigners or unaccredited investors without enough net worth aren’t allowed to own certain securities. The lawyers to handle these sales can be expensive, and the process can take weeks.

Normally, businesses have to be very careful about who they let buy these securities because they’re liable for a 20-year criminal sentence if they violate SEC law. With Harbor, a white list of eligible owners is established by an outside law firm that takes responsibility, and Harbor’s smart contracts refuse to process an illegal sale. Harbor effectively bakes securities law compliance like know-your-customer and anti-fraud/money-laundering into the tokens themselves so trades can happen instantaneously without legal assistance on every sale.

Harbor is hoping to launch this Regulated Token (R-Token) system with its first client this summer. The tokens are ERC-20 compatible so they can be sold on lots of cryptocurrency exchanges and stored in popular wallets. Stein stresses that investors will have to trust the underlying securities they’re buying. But they’ll get more trust in who owns something through blockchain transparency rather than some signed contract locked in a desk or vault somewhere. And they won’t have to trust who they’re selling to since the smart contracts only execute the trade if its legal.

The idea of making the way hugely valuable assets trade faster, easier, and cheaper led Harbor’s latest round to be oversubscribed. That’s even though it only came out of stealth two months ago from Craft Ventures, the fund and incubator run by PayPal mafioso David Sacks who sold Yammer to Microsoft.

Craft Ventures, Vy Capital and Valor Equity Partners joined this that included other new investors like Future Perfect Ventures, 1confirmation, Abstract Ventures, and Signia Venture Partners. Nicolas Berggruen of Berggruen Holdings, Napoleon Ta of Founders Fund, and Kyle Samani and Tushar Jain of Multicoin Capital also put in their personal money.  Sacks knew Ta, which set up Founders Fund to lead the round. Meanwhile, Stein says Harbor wanted to team up with Andreessen Horowitz partner and crypto thought leader Chris Dixon.

Harbor will have to compete with the other blockchain-for-securities startups like Polymath, which runs entirely decentralized and trustless infrastrucutre to the point that you have to hope strangers want their deposit back enough not to screw you on legal compliance, and tZERO, which is building its own full-stack compliance system. Harbor’s reliance on outside legal firms to build the smart contract white lists makes it more akin to a traditional financial player.

Harbor could make a lucrative business out of letting clients sell American securities to the Chinese market, which has shown a strong interest in crypto assets. Stein talks about “a crypto nirvana of a trustless environment” like a true Bitcoin bro. But his new A-list investors show Harbor is no pump-and-dump.

IfOnly, a marketplace for experiences, has new funding — and a new CEO

IfOnly, a San Francisco-based online marketplace that offers more than 3,000 unique experiences to its adventuresome users, has raised $20 million in Series D funding led by MasterCard, which was joined by other strategic investors, including Hyatt Hotels and Sotheby’s.

It has another new announcement, too: the company has brought aboard a new CEO, John Boris, who spent the previous six years as the chief marketing officer at the personalized photos and products company Shutterfly.

The latter wasn’t necessarily something the company saw coming. Until recently, IfOnly was led by serial entrepreneur and founder Trevor Traina. But in January, Traina — a financial supporter of President Donald Trump — was nominated for an ambassadorship to Austria, and last Thursday, he was sworn in at his Pacific Heights home in San Francisco.

With Traina off to Vienna, Boris will steer the company’s growth, and its newest strategic partners should help.

Both MasterCard and Hyatt, for example, offer the kinds of experiences featured at IfOnly to help make their offerings a bit stickier for customers.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s, known of its auctions business, has similarly been getting into the business of experiences. In December, anyone willing to pay enough could enjoy an after-hours tour of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, before being treated to an authentic Venetian dinner. Another experience recently auctioned off by Sotheby’s: the ability to host a private lunch or dinner for 10 at the iconic Philip Johnson Glass House in Connecticut.

Both of these opportunities were expected to fetch in the tens of thousands of dollars — which is in the range of plenty of experiences featured on IfOnly. Among the costlier options available right now on its platform is a private concert with the band Third Eye Blind — which requires that interested parties “request a quote” —  and a one-of-a-kind crystal pet pendant by L.A. designer Irene Neuwirth, who, for $21,000, will also carve out enough time to say hello.

IfOnly is also going after a much broader audience — one that may be looking for fresh experiences that won’t cost an arm and a leg. It seems to be making some progress on that front, too.

The company has now attracted 2 million registered users, and Boris says that roughly 25 percent of them engage regularly with the platform. Two years ago, when we spoke with Traina about the company’s Series B round, IfOnly experiences were only available in San Francisco, L.A. and New York. Now, the platform features experiences in eight cities. It also seems to feature a greater breadth of experiences, and many more affordable options. (Among them: glassblowing in L.A.’s Hermosa Beach, Ca., for $99 per person.)

The company has plenty of competition, of course. Its most daunting rival may well be Airbnb, which is deriving a growing percentage of its revenue from travel services and bookable excursions with locals.

Asked about this, Boris stresses that every experience on IfOnly is “vetted,” suggesting that Airbnb might not be controlling quality as tightly. He also says he welcomes the attention that Airbnb is paying to experiences. “It legitimizes that there’s a multibillion-dollar market here,” he says.

IfOnly has now raised more than $40 million altogether. Other investors in its newest round of funding include the venture firms New Enterprise Associates, Founder’s Fund, Khosla Ventures, and TriplePoint Capital.

Pictured above: a photo on IfOnly of a Half Dome adventure hike in Yosemite. Price: $290 per person.

Oscar Health raises $165 million at reported $3B valuation

Oscar Health, the startup run by Josh Kushner (yes, brother of Jared), has raised $165 million at a reported valuation of $3.2 billion, CNBC’s Christina Farr reports. The funding comes from Alphabet’s Capital G investment company and Verily life sciences corporation, Founders Fund and others.

Oscar’s goal is to outpace existing industry-leading insurers, including UnitedHealth and Aetna, with an emphasis on mobile technology, including an appointment booking app and other tools for encouraging engaged consumers across its platform.

The startup seemed to be in some potential trouble because of its focus providing an insurance marketplace for Affordable Care Act beneficiaries, but the company has changed its model to one in which customers are charged higher premiums, and with closer relationships with a select group of care providers to help them work out more competitive pricing.

Per CNBC, Oscar Health also left the door open for potential partnerships with one of its newest investors, Verily. The Alphabet-owned healthtech company has a number of potential ventures it’s working on, and insurance could feature in a few of those plans, so this could turn out to be a very strategic investor partner.

Zenefits Just Raised $500 Million At A $4.5 Billion Valuation

zenefits scottsdale Zenefits today said it has raised $500 million in a round led by Fidelity and TPG at a whopping $4.5 billion valuation. The company, which allows small- and medium-sized businesses to manage human resources services in a much simpler fashion, is one of the fastest-growing SaaS businesses ever, and in an interview, Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad said the big round was raised to keep the company… Read More

Privateer’s Brendan Kennedy And Founders Fund’s Geoff Lewis To Light Up The Stage At Disrupt NY

marijuana-buds It’s becoming increasingly clear that the cannabis industry will soon become a huge market opportunity for startup entrepreneurs who have the brains and the gumption to navigate a still-murky legal and regulatory environment. Those who get in on the ground floor now could And what happens when huge market opportunities open up? Well, venture money is sure to follow. That’s… Read More

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