Big revenues, huge valuations and major losses: charting the era of the unicorn IPO

We can make charts galore about the tech IPO market. Yet none of them diminish the profound sense that we are in uncharted territory.

Never before have so many companies with such high revenues gone public at such lofty valuations, all while sustaining such massive losses. If you’re a “growth matters most” investor, these are exciting times in IPO-land. If you’re the old-fashioned value type who prefers profits, it may be best to sit out this cycle.

Believers in putting market dominance before profits got their biggest IPO opportunity perhaps ever last week, with Uber’s much-awaited dud of a market debut. With a market cap hovering around $64 billion, Uber is far below the $120 billion it was initially rumored to target. Nonetheless, one could convincingly argue it’s still a rich valuation for a company that just posted a Q1 loss of around $1 billion on $3 billion in revenue.

So how do Uber’s revenues, losses and valuation stack up amidst the recent crop of unicorn IPOs? To put things in context, we assembled a list of 15 tech unicorns that went public over the past three quarters. We compared their valuations, along with revenues and losses for 2018 (in most cases the most recently available data), in the chart below:

 

Put these companies altogether in a pot, and they’d make one enormous, money-losing super-unicorn, with more than $25 billion in annual revenue coupled to more than $6 billion in losses. It’ll be interesting to revisit this list in a few quarters to see if that pattern changes, and profits become more commonplace.

History

It’s easy to draw comparisons to the decades-old dot-com bubble, but this time things are different. During the dot-com bubble, I remember penning this lead sentence:

“If the era of the Internet IPO had a theme song, it might be this: There’s no business like no business.”

That notion made sense for bubble-era companies, which commonly went public a few years after inception, before amassing meaningful revenues.

That tune won’t work this time around. If the era of the unicorn IPO had a theme song, it wouldn’t be nearly as catchy. Maybe something like: “There’s no business like lots of business and lots of losses too.”

I won’t be buying tickets to that musical. But when it comes to buying IPO shares, the unicorn proposition is a bit more appealing than the 2000 cycle. After all, it’s reasonably plausible for a company with dominant market share to tweak its margins over time. It’s a lot harder to grow revenues from nothing to hundreds of millions or billions, particularly if investors grow averse to funding continued losses.

Of course, the dot-com bubble and the unicorn IPO era do share a common theme: Investors are betting on an optimistic vision of future potential. If expectations don’t pan out, expect share prices to follow suit.

The FT is buying another media startup: Deal Street Asia

Fresh from picking up a majority stake in Europe-based The Next Web, the Financial Times is buying another tech blog. The newspaper, which was founded in 1888, is adding Singapore-based Deal Street Asia to its roster with a deal expected to close in April, according to three sources with knowledge of discussions.

Founded in 2014 by Indian journalists Joji Thomas Philip and Sushobhan Mukherjee, Deal Street Asia mixes Asia startup news with updates from Asia’s financial markets and business verticals. It has around a dozen reporters across Southeast Asia and India, as well as a license to use content from wires. Its investors include Singapore Press Holdings, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of Alibaba-backed Paytm, the Singapore Angel Network and Hindustan Times, the Indian media firm that operates Mint, which is a Deal Street Asia content partner.

The company never disclosed its total fundraising, although TechCrunch wrote about an undisclosed round that closed in late 2015.

The deal is led by Nikkei, the Japanese parent of the FT, which has agreed to buy at least one-third of Deal Street Asia, one source told TechCrunch, but the total stake could reach 51 percent (as was the case with The Next Web) depending on which investors decide to sell. A separate source said the investment is worth at least $5 million. That would represent a positive return for all investors with early backers potentially banking 4-5X. That’s a pretty handsome result for an investment in a media business, which are often efforts to spark an ecosystem or at least include a lower expectation on a return.

“The FT is not involved in plans to acquire Deal Street Asia,” an FT spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Deal Street Asia declined to comment. At the time of writing, Nikkei’s press department had not responded to a request for comment that was sent yesterday at 20:31 Japanese time.

TechCrunch understands that the deal for Deal Street Asia will be similar to that of The Next Web. That’s to say that one of the primary interests is adding the company’s events business to its roster to help to break into the conference scene in Southeast Asia.

Deal Street Asia’s events are targeted at a business crowd. For example, its main summit in Singapore in September costs upwards of $1,000 and features senior executives from the likes of DBS, Grab, Sea, GGV, Allianz and IFC.

The startup uses a subscription business for its website, which is priced upwards of $89 for three months of complete access. Its paywall is a selective one that keeps some stories locked for subscribers, whilst others are left open for all readers.

Deal Street Asia’s upcoming Asia PE-VC Summit takes place in Singapore in September

This far from it for the FT in terms of deals. TechCrunch understands that the company is actively seeking acquisition and investment opportunities in media startups across the world. Beyond augmenting its existing events business, one source told TechCrunch that the FT is considering a new media subscription business which could bundle some of its acquisitions together. That’s very much an ongoing work in progress as seeks additional deals to plump up that potential subscription offering.

Aside from The Next Web and Deal Street Asia, the FT has acquired content startup AlphaGrid, intelligence service GIS Planning and research firm Longitude. The FT itself was bought by Nikkei from previous owner Pearson for $1.3 billion in 2015.

Disclaimer: The author is a former employee of The Next Web

500 Startups Japan becomes Coral Capital with a new $45M fund

The 500 Startups Japan crew is going independent. The VC firm announced a $30 million fund in 2015, and now the follow up is a new $45 million fund called Coral Capital.

Helmed by James Riney and Yohei Sawayama, just like 500 Startups Japan, Coral will essentially continue the work the U.S. firm made in Japan, where it made more than 40 investments including Kakehashi, satellite startup Infostellar, SmartHR and Pocket Concierge, which was acquired by American Express.

“Coral provides a foundational role within the marine ecosystem, it’s symbolic about how we want to be in the Japanese startup ecosystem,” Riney told TechCrunch in an interview.

LPs in the fund include 500 Startups backers Mizuho Bank, Mitsubishi Estate, and Taizo Son — the brother of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and founder of Mistletoe — and Shinsei Bank as well as other undisclosed institutional investors, who Riney said account for nearly half of the LPs. Riney said the fund was closed within two and a half months of fundraising and Coral had to turn some prospective investors away due to the overall interest shown.

Riney said that the scandals around 500 Startups — founding partner Dave McClure resigned in 2017 after admitting he’d been a “creep” around women — “wasn’t really a strong consideration” for starting Coral.

“It’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while,” he explained.

Coral Capital founding partners James Riney and Yohei Sawayama previously led 500 Startups Japan

Riney explained that Coral won’t mix in with 500 Startups Japan investments, and the team will continue to manage that portfolio whilst also running the fund.

Thesis-wise, the plan is to continue on from 500 Startups Japan, that means going after early stage deals across the board. Riney said that over the last four years, he’s seen more founders leave stable jobs and start companies which bodes well for Japan’s startup ecosystem.

“Now you’re seeing people more into their careers who see entrepreneurism as a way to fundamentally change their industry,” he said in an interview. “That bucks the trend of risk aversion in Japan which is commonly the perception.”

He sees the arrival of Coral as an opportunity to continue to push startup culture in Japan, a country well known for massive corporations and company jobs with an absence of early stage capital options for founders.

“There’s a lot of work we can do and the impact we can make in Japan is much higher than in somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Riney said.

“Pretty much every corporate has a startup program, but few of them are strong leads within seed or early stage deals, they tend to feel more comfortable in later stage investments. There have been investors investing on behalf of corporations who got the courage to spin out and go alone… but it is still much much fewer than other countries,” he added.

Sequoia goes after early-stage with an accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Sequoia India is going deep into early-stage investing after it announced an accelerator program, Surge, which is focused on fledging startups in India and Southeast Asia, the two regions that it covers.

It’s been nearly six months since Sequoia India closed its newest $695 million fund — its fifth since its establishment 12 years ago — and with over 200 deals under its belt, it is going earlier than ever before. The Surge program is designed to work with a mix of companies; that could include founders with just an idea, to those at pre-launch or pre-seed, businesses with an existing product-market fit or even startups intending to pivot, Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh told TechCrunch.

“It’s a bold attempt to try to create a better program for seed to Series A,” Singh said in an interview. “We think founders are underserved. There is quality early-stage talent but we are trying to find a way to serve them better.”

Singh explained that the program is a result of extensive research. He said Sequoia India talked to startups, founders and investors, and that a series of Twitter polls he conducted last year show founders in India and Southeast Asia are too frequently under-capitalized, over-diluted and forced to spend too much time on the fundraising trail.

“We decided there is a better way,” Singh said.

So what is the Sequoia India solution?

Surge is aiming to recruit 10-20 companies per batch, with two cohorts running each year for four months each. Perhaps the most notable feature is that selected companies will receive a $1.5 million investment from Sequoia, with the option to raise more from the firm and other co-investors in a final “UpSurge” demo week that concludes the program. Participants will, however, need to pay a “program fee” although that is being waived for the first cohort.

On its website, the firm describes Surge as being designed to give founders an “unfair advantage, right out of the gate.”

That first program is scheduled to run in March and applications are open now, although Sequoia has already picked a small selection for the first program. While the focus is local startups, China-based startups looking at India and Southeast Asia and U.S. startups seeking an Asia will also be considered, the firm said.

Singh said equity will be negotiated on a company-by-company basis, but he anticipates that valuations will be will be in the range of “high single-digit to high-teens” pre-money. There’s no obligation for a Sequoia follow-on, and Singh stressed that a “curated” selection of investors will be invested to invest in the post-program round and even alongside the initial $1.5 million check.

Shailendra Singh, Sequoia India managing director

The program is quite unusual in being globally distributed. That’s to say that it is split into five ‘modules,’ each of which is hosted in a different city which taps into Sequoia’s global presence. That’ll include Singapore, China, India and Silicon Valley. Singh said each module will require founder presence for a week, when they will work together with Sequoia — including the firm’s AMP program — Surge mentors and others, before taking the learnings back to their company for the remainder of the month. The only exception is the final month, which will include an additional week for the demo segment.

Sequoia India has tapped its portfolio companies and other Sequoia investees to pull an initial list of mentors that include Nadiem Makarim (Go-Jek), Rajan Ananadan (Google), Byju Raveendran (Byju’s), Neeraj Arora (WhatsApp) and Kunal Shah (Freecharge and now Cred). Singh said more will be added after the public launch.

He added that Sequoia India is hiring dedicated Surge staff to work exclusively on the program. For now, the budget for the program will come from the India fund but, in the long term, Singh said a dedicated Surge fund could be created. That could be necessary given the potential costs from the program.

The focus is fairly vertical agnostic, Sequoia said, with a focus on the teams behind companies.

“The single biggest focus is on being founder-centric,” Singh told TechCrunch. “We want to assemble a group of founders who are quite special. We expect founders to learn a lot from each other.”

When I put it to Singh that Sequoia’s move into early stage puts it into competition with the very up-stream, seed investors that it works with to get Series A deal flow, he argued that Sequoia is already very present in that segment.

Pointing to a recent LinkedIn post — which reads like a precursor to today’s announcement — Singh said one-quarter of its deals have been with startups valued at $5 million or lower, with 64 percent at $10 million or lower.

“We’ve made seed investments and collaborated with other firms in the past. We’ve already spoken to a few friendly firms and they are excited to be involved,” Singh said.

Sequoia is well known for later-stage deals, but Sequoia’s Singh shared data showing that it is well invested in early-stage deals, too

That may well be true for some firms, but I can’t help but feel that others may be intimated at a deep-pocketed investor playing in their backyard. In such a case, there’s little more than you can do other than play along. That said, Singh seems genuinely keen to build links between Surge and other VCs at all levels.

“It’s not about us or them but what’s good for founders,” he explained, adding that Sequoia will “actively” work with firms to involve them in the program.

It’s definitely a fascinating move, and it is certainly one of Sequoia’s boldest strategies worldwide. It is too early to say if it will be replicated by Sequoia other global funds, but they will certainly be watching, as Singh himself admitted.

You can find more information about Surge here.

Sophia Genetics bags $77M Series E, with 850+ hospitals signed up to its “data-driven medicine”

Another sizeable cash injection for big data biotech: Sophia Genetics has announced a $77M Series E funding round, bringing its total raised to $140M since the business was founded back in 2011.

The company, which applies AI to DNA sequencing to enable what it dubs “data-driven medicine”, last closed a $30M Series D in fall 2017.

The Series E was led by Generation Investment Management . Also investing: European private equity firm, Idinvest Partners. Existing investors, including Balderton Capital and Alychlo, also participated in the round.

When we last spoke to Sophia Genetics it had around 350 hospitals linked via its SaaS platform, and was then adding around 10 new hospitals per month.

Now it says its Sophia AI platform is being used by more than 850 hospitals across 77 countries, and it claims to have supported the diagnosis of more than 300,000 patients.

The basic idea is to improve diagnoses by enabling closer collaboration and knowledge sharing between hospitals via the Sophia AI platform, with an initial focus on oncology, hereditary cancer, metabolic disorders, pediatrics and cardiology. 

Expert (human) insights across the network of hospital users are used to collectively enhance genomic diagnostics, and push towards predictive analysis, by feeding and training AI algorithms intended to enhance the reading and analysis of DNA sequencing data.

Sophia Genetics describes its approach as the “democratization” of DNA sequencing expertise.

Commenting on the Series E in a statement, Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s growth equity team said: “We believe that leveraging genetic sequencing and advanced digital analysis will enable a more sustainable healthcare system. Sophia Genetics is a leader in the preventive and personalized medicine revolution, enabling the development of targeted therapeutics, thereby vastly improving health outcomes. We admire Sophia Genetics not just for its differentiated analytics capability across genomic and radiomic data, but also for its exceptional team and culture”.

The new funding will be put towards further expanding the number of hospitals using Sophia Genetics’ technology, and also on growing its headcount with a plan to ramp up hiring in the US especially.

The Swiss-founded firm is now co-based in Lausanne and Boston, US.

In another recent development the company added radiomics capabilities to its platform last year, allowing for what it describes as “a prediction of the evolution of a tumour”, which it suggests can help inform a physician’s choice of treatment for the patient.

Daily Crunch: AR startups face an uneasy future in 2019

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Magic Leap and other AR startups have a rough 2019 ahead of them 

2018 was supposed to be the year where the foundation of AR was set to expand, but now it looks like momentum has been sucked out of the industry’s heavy hitters.

2. Sorry I took so long to upgrade, Apple 

Apple missed Wall Street’s Q1 sales projections yesterday and the company blamed faltering sales in China for the reason behind the drop. But let’s not kid ourselves; anyone who has an iPhone now is part of the problem. As essential as these devices have become to our lives, it’s too hard for many consumers around the world to justify spending more than $1,000 for a new phone.

BERND THISSEN/AFP/Getty Images

3. China’s lunar probe makes history by successfully soft-landing on the far side of the moon

China crossed a major milestone in space exploration last night by becoming the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon. Named after the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e 4 will use a low-frequency radio to survey the terrain of the moon.

4. Mary Meeker targets $1.25B for debut fund, called Bond

With Bond, Meeker is set to be the first woman to raise a $1 billion-plus VC fund.

5. Money is no object: China’s Luckin sets sights on rivaling Starbucks 

Caffeinated drinks are taking off in the tea-drinking nation. Luckin, which is only a year old, has announced an ambitious plan to topple Starbucks and expand to 6,000 stores by 2022.

6. 10 predictions on the future of gaming in 2019 

Will the gaming industry clutch up in 2019?

7. Segway unveils a more durable electric scooter and autonomous delivery bot 

Segway’s Model Max scooter is designed to help services like Bird and Lime reduce their respective operating and maintenance costs, while its new Loomo delivery bot is made for autonomous deliveries for food, packages and other items.

Why Oath keeps Tumblring

I dig on my employer Oath, and then Tencent Music notes and a major loss for the NYC ecosystem and what it means for open source.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

My three word Oath? I’m with stupid

It goes without saying that this piece about my employer is my work alone, doesn’t reflect management’s views, and is done under the auspices of TechCrunch’s independent editorial voice. No usage of internal information is assumed or implied.

This is a piece about TechCrunch’s parent company, formerly known as “Oath:” (okay just Oath, but who am I to flout a mandatory colon?) and now ReBranded™ as Verizon Media Group / Oath (See what they did there? They literally slashed Oath. Poetic).

Oath is essentially the creature of Frankenstein, a middle-school corporate alchemy experiment to fuse the properties of the companies formerly known as AOL and Yahoo into the larger behemoth known as Verizon. You can feel the terrible synergy emanating from the multiple firewalls it takes to get to our corporate resources.

Oath has a problem:* it needs to grow for Wall Street to be happy and for Verizon not to neuter it, but it has an incredible penchant for making product decisions that basically tell users to fuck off. Oath’s year over year revenues last quarter were down 6.9%, driven by extreme competition from digital ad leaders Google and Facebook.

The solution apparently? Drive page views down. If that logic doesn’t make sense, well then, maybe you should fill out a job application.

The kerfuffle is over Tumblr, which is among Oath’s most important brands, in that people actually know what it is and kind of still like it. Tumblr, which Yahoo notably acquired under Marissa Mayer back in 2013, has been something of a product orphan — one of the few true software platforms left in a world filled with editorial content like TechCrunch and HuffPost (Oath sold off Flickr earlier this year to SmugMug — which also seems to be going through its own boneheaded product decision phase).

All was well and good — well, at least quiet — in the Tumblr world until Apple pulled the plug on Tumblr’s app in the App Store a few weeks ago over claims of child porn. Now let’s be absolutely clear: child porn is abhorrent, and filtering it out of online photo sharing sites is a prime directive (and legally mandated).

But Oath has decided to do something equally obnoxious: it intends to ban anything that might be considered “adult content” starting December 17th, just in time for the holidays when purity around family gatherings is key.

In Tumblr’s policy, “Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.” You’ll notice the written legerdemain — “primarily” doesn’t exclude the wider world of adult-oriented content that almost invariably is going to be subsumed under this policy.

Obviously, adults (and presumably teens as well) are pissed. As users are starting to see what photos are getting flagged (hint: not the ones with porn in them), that’s only making them more angry.

Oath is attempting to compress the content moderation engineering and testing of Facebook down to a span of a few weeks. And Facebook hasn’t even figured this one out yet, which is why people are still being murdered across the world from viral messages and memes it hosts that incite ethnic hatred and genocide.

I get the pressure from Apple. I get the safety of saying “just ban all the images” à la Renaissance pope. I get the business decision of trying to maintain Tumblr’s clean image. These points are all reasonable, but they all are just useless without Tumblr’s core and long-time users.

What flummoxes me from a product perspective is that it’s not as if banning all adult content is the singular solution to the problem. There is an entire spectrum of product, policy, legal, and product cultural ingredients that could be drawn upon. There could be more age verification, better separation of “safe for children” and “meant for adults content,” and more focus on messaging to users that moderation was meant to help the product and focus audiences rather than to puritanically filter.

Or you can just kill the photos, the somehow still loyal core user base, a safe space for expression via nudity and sexuality and, well, traffic along with it. And then you look at -6.9% growth and think: huh, I wonder if there is a connection.

*Mandatory colon

Tencent Music reintroduces its IPO

Tencent Music. Photo by Zhan Min/VCG via Getty Images

Maybe the IPO markets are thawing a bit after the crash of the last few weeks and…tariffs. From my colleague Catherine Shu:

Tencent Music Entertainment’s initial public offering is back in motion, two months after the company reportedly postponed it amid a global selloff. In a regulatory filing today, the company, China’s largest streaming music service, said it plans to offer 82 million American depositary shares (ADS), representing 164 million Class A ordinary shares, for between $13 to $15 each. That means the IPO will potentially raise up to $1.23 billion.

My colleague Eric Peckham wrote a deeper dive behind the lessons of Tencent Music for the broader music industry:

At its heart, Tencent Music is an interactive media company. Its business isn’t merely providing music, it’s getting people to engage around music. Given its parent company Tencent has become the leading force in global gaming—with control of League of Legends maker Riot Games and Clash of Clans maker Supercell, plus a 40 percent stake in Fortnite creator Epic Games, and role as the top mobile games publisher in China—its team is well-versed in the dynamics of in-game purchasing.

Tencent Music has staked out a very differentiated business model from Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc. It has used an engagement-based product model to make live-streaming and virtual gifts huge business lines, without dealing with the product marketing logistics of subscription. Where the West always asks you to pay for access, Tencent is asking you essentially to pay to have fun and be part of an experience.

Eric asks I think a deep question: why hasn’t this model (which seems particularly obvious in music given the overall events component of that business) been back-ported from China to the Western world? He sees a world where Facebook buys Spotify (I don’t) but I think there is absolutely a gap in the market for a music platform to really own this model.

NYC loses an open-source superstar

Photo: Amanda Hall / robertharding / Getty Images

Wes McKinney is a major open-source star and the engineer behind pandas, which is one of the fundamental Python data libraries, as well as a founding engineer of Apache Arrow, which is an in-memory data structure specification.

So it is big news that he has decided to decamp from New York City, where has has lived for ten years, to Nashville. Writing on his personal blog:

I’ve increasingly felt that open source development is at odds with the values that are driving a large portion of the corporate world, particularly in the United States. Many companies won’t fund open source work because there is no “return on investment”. This is deeply frustrating, and being surrounded by people whose actions align with profit-motive can be pretty discouraging. It’s not necessarily that people who work in NYC or SF are greedy or amorally concerned with making money. In many cases they are just responding to incentives coming from pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

And

Full-time open source developers in many cases will make less money than their peers who work at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, or another major tech company. If we are to enable more people to do open source development as a full-time vocation, we need to grow supportive tech communities in places that are more affordable. (emphasis his).

I think this is a very interesting trend to watch in the coming years. It’s not just the small business and art types who want to move to lower cost locales to match their lifestyle spending to the (economic) value of their work. Software developers who want to work on more meaningful projects outside of advertising and finance will also increasingly need to consider these sorts of geographical adjustments.

As I wrote a few months ago about digital nomads:

From cryptocurrency millionaires in Puerto Rico to digital nomads in hotspots like Thailand, Indonesia, and Colombia, there is increasingly a view that there is a marketplace for governance, and we hold the power as consumers. Much like choosing a cereal from the breakfast department of a supermarket, highly-skilled professionals are now comparing governments online — and making clear-headed choices based on which ones are most convenient and have the greatest amenities available.

Economic migration — whether from cost-of-living, ecosystem or governance culture, or just for new horizons — is the watchword of this century. It’s a huge loss for NYC that people like McKinney can no longer find their work compatible with the city.

What’s next

I am still obsessing about next-gen semiconductors. If you have thoughts there, give me a ring: danny@techcrunch.com.

Thoughts on Articles

Imagined Communities – a major classic book of social science thought, it’s amazing how well it has held up, and the lessons it holds for us in the cyber age. Intending to write a review of it for this weekend, so expect more notes later.

Quietly, Japan has established itself as a power in the aerospace industry – I love industrial policy and national economic development, and Eric Berger has done a great job on both fronts with his dispatch in Ars Technica. Japan is roaring back into space, increasing its launch capabilities and also preparing to deploy its own GPS infrastructure. An important contextual read for those who follow SpaceX.

Why we stopped trusting elites — a compelling deep dive by William Davies in The Guardian into how populism is animated by the failures of elites. Couldn’t agree more that elites have lost significant trust over the last few decades, mostly from hubris, corruption, and outright fraud (the financial crisis being just the largest). Elites need to hold themselves to much higher standards if we want to ask our fellow citizens for their support.

Reading docket

What I’m reading (or at least, trying to read)

  • Huge long list of articles on next-gen semiconductors. More to come shortly.

Zizoo, a booking.com for boats, sails for new markets with $7.4M on board

Berlin-based Zizoo — a startup which self describes as booking.com for boats — has nabbed a €6.5 million (~$7.4M) Series A to help more millennials find holiday yachts to mess about taking selfies in.

Zizoo says its Series A — which was led by Revo Capital, with participation from new investors including Coparion, Check24 Ventures and PUSH Ventures — was “significantly oversubscribed”.

Existing investors including MairDumont Ventures, aws Founders Fund, Axel Springer Digital Ventures and Russmedia International also participated in the round.

We first came across Zizoo some three years ago when they won our pitching competition in Budapest.

We’re happy to say they’ve come a long way since, with a team that’s now 60-people strong, and business relationships with ~1,500 charter companies — serving up more than 21,000 boats for rent, across 30 countries, via a search and book platform that caters to a full range of “sailing experiences”, from experienced sailor to novice and, on the pricing front, luxury to budget.

Registered users passed the 100,000 mark this year, according to founder and CEO Anna Banicevic. She also tells us that revenue growth has been 2.5x year-on-year for the past three years.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Revo Capital’s managing director Cenk Bayrakdar said: “The yacht charter market is one of the most underserved verticals in the travel industry despite its huge potential. We believe in Zizoo’s successful future as a leading SaaS-enabled marketplace.”

The new funds will be put towards growing the business — including by expanding into new markets; plus product development and recruitment across the board.

Zizoo founder and CEO Anna Banicevic at its Berlin offices

“We’re looking to strengthen our presence in the US, where we’ve seen the biggest YoY growth while also expand our inventory in hot locations such as Greece, Spain and the Caribbean,” says Banicevic on market expansion. “We will also be aggressively pushing markets such as France and Spain where consumers show a growing interest in boat holidays.”

Zizoo is intending to hire 40 more employees over the course of the next year — to meet what it dubs “the booming demand for sailing experiences, especially among millennials”.

So why do millennials love boating holidays so much? Zizoo says the 20-40 age range makes up the “majority” of its customer.

Banicevic reckons the answer is they’re after a slice of ‘affordable luxury’.

“After the recent boom of the cruising industry, millennials are well familiar with the concept of holidays at sea. However, sailing holidays (yachting) are much more fitting to the millennial’s strive for independence, adventure and experiences off the beaten path,” she suggests.

“Yachting is a growing trend no longer reserved for the rich and famous — and millennials want a piece of that. On our platform, users can book a boat holiday for as low as £25 per person per night (this is an example of a sailboat in Croatia).”

On the competition front, she says the main competition is the offline sphere (“where 90% of business is conducted by a few large and many small travel agents”).

But a few rival platforms have emerged “in the last few years” — and here she reckons Zizoo has managed to outgrow the startup competition “thanks to our unique vertically integrated business model, offering suppliers a booking management system and making it easy for the user to book a boat holiday”.

Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

Salesforce acquires Rebel, maker of ‘interactive’ email services, to expand its Marketing Cloud

Salesforce’s Marketing and Commerce Cloud is the company’s smallest division today, so to help beef it up, the company is making an acquisition to add in more features. Salesforce has acquired Rebel, a startup that develops interactive email services for businesses to enhance their direct marketing services: recipients of interactive emails can write reviews, shop and take other actions without leaving the messages to do so.

In an announcement on Rebel’s site, the startup said it will be joining Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud operation, which will integrate Rebel’s API-based services into its platform.

“With Rebel’s Mail and API solutions, brands, including Dollar Shave Club, L’Oreal and HelloFresh, turn emails into an extension of their website or app – collecting data, removing friction from the conversion process, and enhancing the customer experience. Rebel will enhance the power of Salesforce Marketing Clod and fundamentally change the way people interact with email,” the founders note. It sounds as if the company’s existing business will be wound down as part of the move.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed in the Rebel announcement. We have contacted both the startup and Salesforce for further comment and to ask about the price. To date, Rebel — co-founded originally as Rebelmail by Joe Teplow and Trever Faden — had raised only about $3 million, with investors including Lerer Hippeau, Sinai Ventures, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others, so if the deal size is equally small, Salesforce likely will not be disclosing it.

Salesforce has made a number of acquisitions to build and expand its marketing services to compete with Adobe and others. Perhaps most notable of these was buying ExactTarget, one of its biggest-ever acquisitions, for $2.5 billion in 2013. (And according to some, it even wanted to buy Adobe at one point.) Competition has been heating up between the two, with Adobe most recently snapping up Marketo for $4.75 billion.

But on the other hand, marketing is currently Saleforce’s smallest division. It pulled in $452 million in revenues last quarter, putting it behind revenues for Sales Cloud ($1 billion), Service Cloud ($892 million) and Salesforce Platform ($712 million). Adding in interactive email functionality isn’t likely to float Marketing and Commerce Cloud to the top of that list, but it does show that Salesforce is trying to improve its products with more functionality for would-be and current customers.

Those customers have a lot of options these days, though, in targeting their own customers with rich email services. Microsoft and Google have both started to add in a lot more features into their own email products, with Outlook and Gmail supporting things like in-email payments and more. There are ways of building such solutions through your current direct marketing providers, or now directly using other avenues.

What will be interesting to see is whether Rebel continues to integrate with the plethora of email service providers it currently works with, or if Salesforce will keep the functionality for itself. Today Rebel’s partners include Oracle, SendGrid, Adobe, IBM, SailThru and, yes, Salesforce.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.