33-year-old Jan Koum capitalized on Silicon Valley’s blind spot and built the world’s largest messaging platform with $ 0 ad spend
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
Before we get into topics, a reminder that if you are signing up for Extra Crunch and want to save some money, the code “equity” is your friend. Alright, let’s get into it:
- Robinhood is back in the news this week after a New York Times piece dug into its history, product decisions, and more. Tidbits galore are to be had, but the Equity crew wanted to debate the morality of providing exotic financial tooling to less-experienced users.
- We followed that debate with a dive into immigration, the latest news from the government, and our takes on the matter. TechCrunch has covered the recent news, and provided some context on the broader concept. Our takeaway is that doing self-defeating things for no reason isn’t brilliant for the country as a whole.
- Postmates has a home! After winding up somewhere in the middle of the pack of the on-demand cohort a few years back, the rise of DoorDash put Postmates in a pickle. Happily, Uber was on hand to de-brine the unicorn for $ 2.65 billion in stock. That’s a bit more money than Postmates’ last valuation. What we want to know next is how the sale price impacted common stockholders. Email us if you know.
- Palantir has filed to go public, but privately, so that’s really all there is to say about that. Unless you need a history lesson.
- Finally, funding rounds. We had three this week: MonkeyLearn raising $ 2.2 million for no-code AI, Quaestor raising $ 5.8 million for startup financial tooling, and $ 4.5 million for Mmhmm which is both timely and neat.
Whew! Past all that we had some fun, and, hopefully, were of some use. Hugs and chat Monday!
Growing up in the Philippines, Andreia Carrillo always liked the stars. It’s what brought her to the United States to study astronomy, and why she wants others to follow in her footsteps and study the stars.
“Though, we’ll see if that happens now,” Carrillo said.
Carrillo is one of the hundreds of thousands of students affected by a recent rule change issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to no longer allow international students from staying in the U.S. if their university moves classes fully online.
The rule change, published Monday, lands as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic grows across the country, forcing some universities to shift to digital-only operations for the fall.
News of the rule change caught immigration lawyers by surprise. The Trump administration said nothing more about the policy beyond a tweet from the president: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!,” a decision over which the federal government has little authority. It’s a sharp reversal from the administration’s position in March — at the height of the pandemic’s spread in the U.S. — allowing students to retain their lawful immigration status even as in-person classes were suspended across the country.
The sudden rule change puts universities in a difficult dynamic: administrators can let campuses stay open to keep international students in the country but run the risk of spreading the virus; or close up, maintain social distancing, and international students be damned.
But the knock-on effect will be felt across the U.S., not just by the students, the universities whose revenue largely depends on higher tuition fees from international students or even the college towns whose economies rely on schools keeping their doors open. The rule change will also impact the fields that these students pursue, largely engineering, math and computer science, and the rate of innovation that can be sustained in a country without the core, often invisible, talent behind it.
After all, one of the most popular destinations for international students is the state of California, the heart of Silicon Valley.
Eric Tarczynski, the founder of Contrary Capital, says that he’s seen “scores of entrepreneurial people come to universities from abroad explicitly because it’s their gateway to building a company in the United States.
“To some extent, it’s their Ellis Island, and we’ve funded several companies this way,” he said. He pointed to alternative programs, like Lambda School, that will help the same talented students shift online.
New York University president Andrew Hamilton said in response to the government’s rule change that “requiring international students to maintain in person instruction or leave the country, irrespective of their own health issues or even a government mandated shutdown of New York City, is just plain wrong and needlessly rigid.”
“If there were a moment for flexibility in delivering education, this would be it,” he wrote.
NYU will join a chorus of other schools in reaching out to federal officials to ask them to revoke the rule change. Harvard and MIT have gone further by suing ICE to stop the rule change from going into effect.
“The coronavirus has become a vehicle for the administration to continue in its advancement of anti-immigrant policies,” Tahmina Watson, an immigration lawyer, told TechCrunch. “With the election looming in a few months, the administration is looking for every possible angle to block immigration.”
“The invisible wall is real and gets higher every day,” said Watson.
One option for schools is going to the hybrid model route where some classes are taught live and others are taught online. Harvard, for example, said it will bring up to only 40% of undergraduates to campus this fall. Universities that go virtual may struggle to justify their traditionally exorbitant tuition fees.
The rule change touches on a nerve that has been agitated throughout the pandemic: how remote education shapes what we can learn, and, more importantly, who can have the opportunity to learn. Some have noted that a remote shift might harshly impact international students who have spotty connections in other countries. Others say that higher education’s appeal in the U.S. is largely the network it provides.
In Carrillo’s case, there was no opportunity to study astronomy in the Philippines. She had to come to the U.S. if she wanted to pursue her dream career path.
The rule change is likely to face legal challenges. Watson noted that Monday’s policy has questionable legality. The administration referred to it as a “temporary final rule,” which she says essentially avoids the rule going through a more typical public comment period.
“I am sure schools, among others, would have a lot to say about this policy,” said Watson. “If the administration wants to change longstanding policy, the Administrative Procedure Act should be followed at every step.”
The rule, thus, awaits more direction and clarity from the administration. Until then, it is up to colleges and students to figure out how to process the drastic step.
One international student who attends graduate school at University of Washington, who asked to remain anonymous fearing their visa status, said that the rule change puts their research and scholarship at risk if they are forced to go back to their home. If their school opts for a hybrid model, they worry about their health.
“I’ve never felt so disrespected in the United States,” the student said. “If only the international students are required to go back to class, and there is a chance of getting the virus, you’re risking the international students to get infected, they said.
When Carrillo heard the rule change, she said she panicked and emailed her department. To her relief, her current college — the University of Texas, Austin — will take a hybrid approach to classes in the fall. She can stay in the country, for now.
But the news isn’t a complete sigh of relief. International students, like Carrillo, are used to feeling a false sense of security under the Trump administration.
“I feel so shitty for wanting things to be hybrid,” she said. “Morally I want things to be safer and have things online, but then that would also mess up my stay here.”
I found a course called Demystifying Silicon Valley.
Obviously, courses like these are expensive. In your experience, are they worth the price? This one looks credible due to the instructor's extensive Silicon Valley experience. I am a young entrepreneur and would really like to expand my knowledge. Any thoughts on this?
Earlier this week, GGV Capital’s Jeff Richards and Hans Tung joined TechCrunch for an Extra Crunch Live session. During our hour-long chat, we touched on startup profitability, the global venture capital scene, why GGV doesn’t have an office in Europe, how the venture industry is responding to its stark lack of diversity and other issues.
When it comes to useful bits of information, this was perhaps the most useful Extra Crunch Live discussion in which I’ve participated. One moment that stood out came early in the chat when we were talking about COVID-19-driven headwinds and tailwinds and how many startups might be in trouble. Richards said the following (emphasis via TechCrunch):
“You know, the one thing that’s been remarkable for me — I was in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur in the ’99, 2000 dot-com bubble, and 9/11. I was here in ’08, ’09 — I think there is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago and 20 years ago. I don’t have data to point to that. But we have been saying now for a few months that we’ve been blown away at the level of maturity, calmness, perseverance [and] resiliency that our companies and the founders and management teams have. On an emotional level, it’s been very heartwarming, because you hope to back the kind of people that are building real companies that can withstand challenges.
I think the corollary to that is you’ve seen companies that raised a ton of money and were burning a ton of cash and weren’t building very good businesses, a lot of those frankly went under in Q1 or are going under now. They haven’t been able to raise more cash and they’re just kind of dead.”
Both Richards and Tung were positive about their own portfolio companies’ recent performance and financial health (cash position, really). But it appears that not only are their portfolios doing well, but other startups are a bit more solid than in previous downturns.
On the flip side, however, there is a separate cohort of startups that were running inefficiently before and are now perhaps unfundable. Reading both points in unison, it appears that the startup market is bifurcating between the companies that will come out of the COVID-19 era unwounded, and those that are suffering. And the companies that weren’t the most cash hungry probably have the highest chance of being in the first bucket.
There’s a lot more to get to. So hit the jump for the full video and audio, and a few more of the best bits from the transcript. (You can snag a cheap Extra Crunch trial here if you need one.)
Oh, and don’t forget to stay up to date on coming chats. There’s still a lot to do.
The full chat
Here’s the full video rewind. Our favorite bits of the transcript follow:
Yesterday, President Donald Trump released an executive order that extended an existing ban on immigrant work visas through the end of the year. The move prohibits immigrants who are outside the United States from applying, but because new visas are generally issued in October, the impacts of the new rules will be felt well into 2021.
The proclamation specifically targets H-1B and H-2B visas, as well as J and L visas. As a result, the San Francisco Bay area, with its high concentration of STEM-based industries, could be disproportionately impacted.
To better understand the executive order’s potential impacts on the startup community — and the tech landscape in general — I interviewed TechCrunch contributor Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley-based immigration lawyer.
TechCrunch: How long does the executive order prohibit issuing new work visas?
Sophie Alcorn: The new ban will last until at least December 31, 2020 and may be continued longer “as necessary.” The government plans to revisit this order within the next month. Every 60 days after that, the Departments of State, Labor and Homeland Security will be recommending modifications if necessary.
What will be some of the initial impacts of suspending new H-1B visas?
Beneficiaries of this spring’s H-1B visa lottery (for government fiscal year 2021) will not be able to apply for visas at consulates this year. Normally after the I-129 petition gets approved in the summer, applicants will go for visa interviews at consulates abroad to request H-1Bs and to enter the U.S. before the October 1 typical start date. That will probably not be possible this year.
For individuals with technical, professional and research backgrounds and companies that engage in research, a big effect is that there won’t be new J-1s issued this year either for interns, trainees, researchers and specialists who are currently abroad.
Do you have a sense of how many J-1 visa holders there are in the Bay Area?
I estimate that there are at least 15,000 J-1 visa holders in the Bay Area. In 2018, California had over 35,000 participants across over 600 sponsors according to the State Department. The purpose of the program is to promote cross-cultural exchange.
J-1s are not just au pairs, who are vital to so many families, including those with special-needs children, but many other types of workers as well. Other examples are post-doctoral researchers at universities such as Stanford and Berkeley in myriad fields. J-1 holders are also conducting advanced research at private tech companies in fields such as AI and semiconductors and genomics.
Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.
Many in the tech industry saw the threat of the novel coronavirus early and reacted correctly. Fewer have seemed prepared for its aftereffects, like the outflow of talented employees from very pricey office real estate in expensive and troubled cities like San Francisco.
And few indeed have seemed prepared for the Black Lives Matter protests that have followed the death of George Floyd. This was maybe the easiest to see coming, though, given how visible the structural racism is in cities up and down the main corridors of Silicon Valley.
Today, the combination of politics, the pandemic and the protests feels almost like a market crash for the industry (except many revenues keep going up and to the right). Most every company is now fundamentally reconsidering where it will be located and who it will be hiring — no matter how well it is doing otherwise.
Some, like Google and Thumbtack, have been caught in the awkward position of scaling back diversity efforts as part of pandemic cuts right before making statements in support of the protesters, as Megan Rose Dickey covered on TechCrunch this week. But it is also the pandemic helping to create the focus, as Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital tells her:
It is like the world and the country has a front-row seat to what Black people have to witness, take in, and feel all the time. And it was before they were seeing some of it, but they were seeing it kind of protected by us. We were kind of shielding them from some of it… It’s like a VR headset that the country is forced to be in because of COVID. It’s just in their face.
This also putting new scrutiny on how tech is used in policing today. It is renewing questions around who gets to be a VC and who gets funding right when the industry is under new pressure to deliver. It is highlighting solutions that companies can make internally, like this list from BLCK VC on Extra Crunch.
As with police reforms currently in the national debate, some of the most promising solutions are local. Property tax reform, pro-housing activism and sustainable funding for homelessness services are direct ways for the tech industry to address the long history of discrimination where the modern tech industry began, Catherine Bracy of TechEquity writes for TechCrunch. These changes are also what many think would make the Bay Area a more livable place for everyone, including any startup and any tech employee at any tech company (see: How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists).
Something to think about as we move on to our next topic — the ongoing wave of tech departures from SF.
Where will VCs follow founders to now?
In this week’s staff survey, we revisit the remote-first dislocation of the tech industry’s core hubs. Danny Crichton observes some of the places that VCs have been leaving town for, and thinks it means bigger changes are underway:
“Are VCs leaving San Francisco? Based on everything I have heard: yes. They are leaving for Napa, leaving for Tahoe, and otherwise heading out to wherever gorgeous outdoor beauty exists in California. That bodes ill for San Francisco’s (and really, South Park’s) future as the oasis of VC.
But the centripetal forces are strong. VCs will congregate again somewhere else, because they continue to have that same need for market intelligence that they have always had. The new, new place might not be San Francisco, but I would be shocked just given the human migration pattern underway that it isn’t in some outlying part of the Bay Area.
And then he says this:
As for VCs — if the new central node is a bar in Napa and that’s the new “place to be” — that could be relatively more permanent. Yet ultimately, VCs follow the founders even if it takes time for them to recognize the new balance of power. It took years for most VCs to recognize that founders didn’t want to work in South Bay, but now nearly every venture firm of note has an office in San Francisco. Where the founders go, the VCs will follow. If that continues to be SF, its future as a startup hub will continue after a brief hiatus.
It’s true that another outlying farming community in the region once became a startup hub, but that one had a major research university next door, and at the time a lot of cheap housing if you were allowed access to it. But Napa cannot be the next Palo Alto because it is fully formed today as a glorified retirement community, Danny.
I’m already on the record for saying that college towns in general are going to become more prominent in the tech world, between ongoing funding for innovative tech work and ongoing desirability for anyone moving from the big cities. But I’m going to add a side bet that cities will come back into fashion with the sorts of startup founders that VCs would like to back. As Exhibit A, I’d like to present Jack Dorsey, who started a courier dispatch in Oakland in 2000, and studied fashion and massage therapy during the aftermath of the dot-com bubble. His success with Twitter a few years later in San Francisco inspired many founders to move as well.
Creative people like him are drawn to the big, creative environments that cities can offer, regardless of what the business establishment thinks. If the public and private sectors can learn from the many mistakes of recent decades (see last item) who knows, maybe we’ll see a more equal and resilient sort of boom emerge in tech’s current core.
Insurance provider Lemonade files for IPO with that refreshing common-stock flavor
There are probably some amazing puns to be made here but it has been a long week, and the numbers speak for themselves. Lemonade sells insurance to renters and homeowners online, and managed to reach a private valuation of $ 3.5 billion before filing to go public on Monday — with the common stockholders still comprising the majority of the cap table.
Danny crunched the numbers from the S-1 on Extra Crunch to generate the table, included, that illustrates this rather unusual breakdown. Usually, as you almost certainly know already, the investors own well over half by the time of a good liquidity event. “So what was the magic with Lemonade?” he ponders. “One piece of the puzzle is that company founder Daniel Schreiber was a multi-time operator, having previously built Powermat Technologies as the company’s president. The other piece is that Lemonade is built in the insurance market, which can be carefully modeled financially and gives investors a rare repeatable business model to evaluate.”
Adapting enterprise product roadmaps to the pandemic
Our investor surveys for Extra Crunch this week covered the space industry’s startup opportunities, and looked at how enterprise investors are assessing the impact of the pandemic. Here’s Theresia Gouw of Acrew Capital, explaining how two of their portfolio companies have refocused in recent months:
A common theme we found when joining our founders for these strategy sessions was that many pulled forward and prioritized mid- to long-term projects where the product features might better fit the needs of their customers during these times. One such example in our portfolio is Petabyte’s (whose product is called Rhapsody) accelerated development of its software capabilities that enable veterinarians to provide telehealth services. Rhapsody has also incorporated key features that enable a contactless experience when telehealth isn’t sufficient. These include functionality that enables customers to check-in (virtual waiting room), sign documents, and make payments from the comfort and safety of their car when bringing their pet (the patient!) to the vet for an in-person check-up.
Another such example would be PredictHQ, which provides demand intelligence to enterprises in travel, hospitality, logistics, CPG, and retail, all sectors who saw significant change (either positive or negative) in the demand for their products and services. PredictHQ has the most robust global dataset on real-world events. Pandemics and all the ensuing restrictions and, then, loosening of restrictions fall within the category of real-world events. The company, which also has multiple global offices, was able to incorporate the dynamic COVID government responses on a hyperlocal basis, by geography, and equip its customers (e.g., Domino’s, Qantas, and First Data) with up to date insights that would help with demand planning and forecasting as well as understanding staffing needs.
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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
After a pretty busy week on the show we’re here with our regular Friday episode, which means lots of venture rounds and new venture capital funds to dig into. Thankfully we had our full contingent on hand: Danny “Well, you see” Crichton, Natasha “Talk to me post-pandemic” Mascarenhas, Alex “Very shouty” Wilhelm and, behind the scenes, Chris “The Dad” Gates.
Make sure to check out our IPO-focused Equity Shot from earlier this week if you haven’t yet, and let’s get into today’s topics:
- Instacart raises $ 225 million. This round, not unexpected, values the on-demand grocery delivery startup at $ 13.7 billion — a huge sum, and one that should make it harder for the well-known company to sell itself to anyone but the public markets. Regardless, COVID-19 gave this company a huge updraft, and it capitalized on it.
- Pando raises $ 8.5 million. We often cover rounds on Equity that are a little obvious. SaaS, that sort of thing. Pando is not that. Instead, it’s a company that wants to let small groups of individual pool their upside and allow for more equal outcomes in an economy that rewards outsized success.
- Ethena raises $ 2 million. Anti-harassment software is about as much fun as the dentist today, but perhaps that doesn’t have to be the case. Natasha talked us through the company, and its pricing. I’m pretty bullish on Ethena, frankly. Homebrew, Village Global and GSV took part in the financing event.
- Vendr raises $ 4 million. Vendr wants to help companies cut their SaaS bills, through its own SaaS-esque product. I tried to explain this, but may have butchered it a bit. It’s cool, I promise.
- Facebook is getting into the CVC game. This should not be a surprise, but we were also not sure who was going to want Facebook money.
- And, finally, Collab Capital is raising a $ 50 million fund to invest in Black founders. Per our reporting, the company is on track to close on $ 10 million in August. How fast the fund can close its full target is something we’re going to keep an eye on, considering it might get a lot harder a lot sooner.
And that is that; thanks for lending us your ears.
500 Startups kicked off a new series called Innovation Coffee Breaks. Experts from leading companies, venture capital firms and startups join us every week to discuss how to innovate during this time of uncertainty. We caught up with Alex Lazarow, the investment director of Cathay Innovation, a global fund affiliated with Cathay Capital. Lazarow also teaches entrepreneurship at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies and is out with a new book called “Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs from Delhi to Detroit are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley.” He believes that the best entrepreneurs in Chicago, Amsterdam or Bangalore have more in common with the best entrepreneurs in São Paulo than they do with those in San Francisco, but no one …
The post Look Outside of Silicon Valley to See How Founders Can Be Successful Post-Covid-19 appeared first on 500 Startups.
One example I can think of is Grab in Southeast Asia taking Uber's business model, implementing it in Southeast Asia before Uber established itself there, and winning that market.
According to this Quora thread, the German VC firm Rocket Internet uses this process along with the global ePlanet Capital and numerous Latin American families.
Do you know any other examples of this process? What do you think about it?
Although it might sound shady, the end result is people often in developing countries having access to goods and services at fair prices that they would not otherwise be able to obtain.