VENTURE CAPITAL MARKET OVERVIEW, ISSUE 38 (MAY 18 – 24)
Recent news about the most highly-valued startup in the world – Uber – are about regional expansion in China. Other startups, that raised the investments during the last week – are the client-oriented companies, that decide one or few customers’ problems.
M&A. Chinese Taxi App Yidao Yongche Hints At Deal With Uber
Uber appears to be on the cusp of a deal with a rival ride-sharing app in China that could boost its presence in the country.
Yidao Yongche, one of the companies that pioneered an Uber Black-like limousine service in China, used microblogging platform Sina Weibo to hint at a coming together with Uber. Representatives from Uber declined to comment further, but any deal would represent another consolidation in China’s taxi-hailing space following the surprise multi-billion dollar merger between arch rivals Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache announced back in February. (Those two companies are estimated to account for over 90 percent of China’s taxi-app market.)
Yidao Yongche was founded three years ago and it emerged as ‘the original Uber’ in China, before Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache propelled themselves into dominant positions thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from investors including SoftBank, Alibaba and Tencent.
M&A. Automattic Buys WooCommerce, The Plugin For Turning WordPress Into A Store
With roughly 7.5 million downloads, WooCommerce is easily the most popular e-commerce WordPress plugin — and it’s one of the top 10 most popular WordPress plugins overall. And now it’s officially a part of the WordPress family. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, acquired WooCommerce.
Automattic isn’t disclosing the price of the acquisition, but tells me that it’s by far “the biggest acquisition by Automattic to date.”
If e-commerce is the next step for WordPress, this acquisition helps them make a massive splash into those waters: WooCommerce already powers roughly WordPress-based 600,000 storefronts.
So what is WooCommerce? Put simply, it turns WordPress into a store — and since it’s built by a team that once focused on making WordPress themes, it does so while feeling pretty natural within WordPress.
M&A. Handy In Talks To Acquire Homejoy
As more startups rush into the business of providing on-demand services for our every consumer need, we’re also seeing an inevitable move to some consolidation. In the latest development, Handy — the on-demand cleaning, plumbing and other home services platform — is in talks to acquire Homejoy, another home services startup that focuses specifically on cleaning.
Sources tell that the talks are well underway, but have not yet completed. Certain details — such as whether key employees, like Homejoy’s CEO and co-founder Adora Cheung, would stay on post-acquisition — are still to be decided.
Contacted for comment, a Handy spokesperson provided us with this statement:
“In the past year Handy has grown ten times in both revenue and bookings and is now processing over 100,000 transactions per month. Handy is now more than twice the size than any other player and is the clear leader in the category. Over the last 14 months Handy has successfully completed two relatively small acquisitions, and continues to monitor the category for other bolt on acquisitions.”
The two acquisitions he’s referring to were of Exec early in 2014 to expand its footprint on the West Coast; and Mopp in the UK later in the same year to expand internationally.
M&A. Palringo Acquires Helsinki-Based Chat Games Developer Tribe Studios
Palringo, a platform where users can chat, play games and build communities around mobile games, has acquired Finnish game developer, Tribe Studios. Terms were not disclosed. The moves follow its acquisition last year of Swedish game studio, Free Lunch Design.
Tribe Studios is best known for its patented Dramagame technology, which it uses to develop multiplayer role-playing games. The platform is built around chat interaction, where one game has multiple points-of-views and an many possible outcomes, based on player decisions.
Palringo, which last year told us it had hit 35-plus million users globally and revenue growth of 100 percent to $14 million, bases its business on selling chat-based games, premium features and in-game purchases. It’s clearly now rolling up games studio to create an integrated community games platform.
CEO Tim Rea says Tribe Studios believes “the combination of games, messaging and communities creates a fantastic, sustainable proposition,” and plans to bring their Dramagame concept to mobile through Palringo’s chat games.
STARTUP. Akosha Gets $16M To Help Companies Handle Customer Questions
Akosha, a messaging platform that connects customers directly to businesses, has raised a $16 million series B round led by returning investor Sequoia Capital.
The New Delhi-based startup, which counts e-commerce giant Snapdeal and telecom Aircel among its 130 companies that use its services, plans to hire 200 new software engineers and product managers as it expands and improves its technology to handle hundreds of customer chats at a time.
Its series B brings the total Akosha has raised so far to $21.6 million.
Founder Ankur Singla launched Akosha in 2010 after he had a frustrating time trying to reach a representative at a telecom company with a complaint.
Customers can use Akosha’s website, app, or a telephone number to contact company representatives, and then leave a review about the quality of the service they received. Akosha’s Android app (an iOS version is in the works) has been downloaded by 140,000 users and can also be used to find products, get discounts, and book appointments.
Akosha claims to process 30,000 customer inquiries every day, of which 18,000 are handled through its mobile app. It monetizes with a premium version of its enterprise software, called OneDirect, which currently has about 30 paying customers, and recently opened a new office in Bangalore to handle technology and product development.
STARTUP. Stride Health Raises $13M To Be The HR Platform For Freelancers
Looking to provide health insurance to the 53 million Americans who don’t get benefits from their employers, Stride Health has raised $13 million in new funding.
Venrock led the Series A round, with participation from Fidelity Biosciences and previous investor NEA, which brings Stride’s total venture funding to $17.5 million.
For the freelancers and independent contractors who make up one third of the U.S. labor force, Stride offers a hassle-free alternative to Healthcare.gov.
After you enter your own data, including age, gender, location, and illness history, Stride’s forecasting model evaluates how much care you’ll use throughout the year, prices it on every health plan, and couples it with the coverage price to show you the total cost of each plan.
Whereas Healthcare.gov takes the average user well over an hour to register for a health plan, Stride users average 12 to 15 minutes to get through both the recommendation and enrollment process.
STARTUP. Hightower Raises $13M Series B Round For Its Leasing Management Service
Hightower, a New York-based leasing management platform for commercial real estate, today announced that it has raised a $13 million Series B funding round led by previous investor RRE Ventures. Other participants include Bessemer Venture Partners and Thrive Capital, who together led the company’s $6.5 million Series A round, as well as new investor Pritzker Group Venture Capital. The round also includes “a handful” of “strategic real estate investors.”
The company plans to use the new funding to scale its team, accelerate product development and go international.
This new round brings Hightower’s total funding to $22 million, which makes it one of the best-funded startups in the commercial real estate world. While much of the recent startup action has focused on residential real estate thanks to startups like Porch and Houzz (as well as existing players like Zillow and Redfin), commercial real estate has remained under the radar.
Hightower, which was founded in 2013, makes it easier for commercial brokers and owners to manage the leasing process from beginning to end. Brokers, for example, can use the service to get automated leasing activity reports and access to all of their marketing materials and proposal history, just like owners can use it to centralize their deal management, asset intelligence and analytics.
STARTUP. DataHero Snags $6.1M To Democratize Data Visualization
DataHero, the SaaS company that wants to bring data visualization to non-technical end users, announced $6.1 million in Series A funding today. It also announced a new chief executive and a partnership with Hubspot.
The round was led by existing investor Foundry Group. The company also announced it was bringing on veteran executive Ed Miller, who has been CEO at several startups with successful exits including Xythos, a content management company, which was acquired by Blackboard Inc. in 2008.
DataHero previously raised $4.5M in seed rounds bringing the total raised to $10.6 million.
Company founder Chris Neumann will shift to the chief product officer position when Miller takes over. Neumann said with a fast-growing market and new funding, they thought it was a good time to bring an experienced executive on board to lead the company through its next phases.
STARTUP. Videopixie, A Video Production Startup For Buyers And Creators, Raises $1.1M
Videopixie, a Y Combinator alumnus that handles video creation and production (like filming and post-production editing), has raised $1.1 million in seed funding.
The startup connects clients — like retailers and brands — with video production professionals. Clients post in Videopixie what they are looking for, and the creators bid on the project. Videopixie largely sees projects that range in the $1,000 to $10,000 range, though they regularly go as high as $50,000.
Those creators then show their portfolio of work to the buyer, who then decides which one to go with. Initially, Videopixie focused on post-production work — like video editing — but the startup quickly expanded to the all steps of the process after multiple requests from its clients. There are more than 1,000 creators using Videopixie.
That kind of interest isn’t particularly surprising given the increasing number of video ads that appear in networks like Facebook. A good video can generally provide better engagement than ads attached to photos, and it’s quickly becoming a lucrative business for companies like Facebook.
Still, sometimes those buyers need a little bit of help to figure out how to attract the best creators for the best price. Videopixie suggests best practices and gives guidance for how they should price their projects. For example, when a buyer prices a project on the lower side, Videopixie tells them they may attract a creator that won’t produce the best video for which they are looking.
The new investors include Jawed Karim, the cofounder of YouTube, as well as 500 Startups and other angels. Founded in 2013, the company has brought on two additional team members.
INVESTMENT. Baidu Invests In Content Recommendation Platform Taboola
Baidu, the maker of China’s largest search engine, has made a strategic investment in content recommendation startup Taboola. The companies declined to name the exact amount of the deal, but said that it is in the “multi-millions.”
Taboola serves up the links in the “Around The Web” and “Recommended For You” sections you see at the bottom of articles on sites such as The Atlantic, Business Insider, and Mail Online. Baidu’s stake is a follow-on to the $117 million Series E round led by Fidelity Management that Taboola (which competes with Outbrain) announced in February at a reported valuation of almost $1 billion.
The potential synergies between Taboola and Baidu are obvious. Baidu can use Taboola’s tech to build its knowledge graph, while the deal represents a way for Taboola to break into the growing Chinese market, which now has an Internet penetration rate of 47.9 percent.
Baidu claims a 75 percent share of China’s combined PC and mobile search market and says it powers tens of billions of search queries every day. Taboola, which was founded in 2007, says that it now delivers more than 200 billion monthly content recommendations to 550 million users.
INVESTMENT. Topher Conway Becomes Co-Managing Partner Of SV Angel
Big changes are afoot at one of the premier angel investing firms, as David Lee is stepping down from SV Angel after multiple years as managing partner at the firm. With his departure, Topher Conway will be moving up to the co-managing role alongside his father.
Lee joined SV Angel after a stint at seed-stage venture firm Baseline Ventures. Prior to that, he was a founding member of Google’s New Business Development team. He also served as head of biz dev at StumbleUpon prior to its sale to eBay.
The departure makes way for Topher Conway to bump up to co-managing partner of the firm. Topher has been working with SV Angel since 2009 and now appears ready to take over SV Angel when his father Ron is ready to retire. Before joining the family business, Topher served as part of the business development team at EQAL.
Other than that, it appears all else remains the same in the partnership, as Brian Pokorny, Robert Pollak and Kevin Carter will continue to invest as general partners at the firm.