The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Biz Carson.
August 7, 2021
Hello and welcome to Pipeline. This week: Why venture firms are disclosing more about their LPs, piñatas as a perk and why investing in pets is suddenly an investor's best friend.
- "Superhuman is the most Juicero-like product to come out of this town since Juicero itself," tweeted Platformer's Casey Newton. Them's fighting words.
- Mystery piñata or a tarot card reading? Why not both? Startups are getting creative with their hiring incentives by offering "bounties" that aren't just straight cash, but also include things like succulents, psychic readings and "a giant piñata filled with mystery goods shipped to you."
- "I guess one nice thing about being a SaaS investor is that I don't have to worry about an amendment to an infrastructure bill putting me out of business," said Craft Ventures' David Sacks. The same can't be said for the crypto folks, who were already big losers in the infrastructure bill and are now facing an 11th-hour amendment that could blow up their businesses.
- The worst kind of going viral. First it was Corona beer. Then it was Delta Air Lines. Now it's VC favorite Lambda (School) that is facing brand contagion from COVID-19.
- The cost for a dinner with Peter Thiel: $5,800. As long as the check is made out to Blake Masters, the Thiel Capital COO-turned-U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona.
Biz on Biz
Going mutts for pet tech
At the beginning of the pandemic, Rover's business plummeted. No one needed dog walking or dog sitters at a time when everyone was stuck at home.
Then, pets became the pandemic purchase for a population stuck at home, and 70% of U.S. households now own a pet. The shutdown was terrible for Rover, but its business has rebounded to levels higher than 2019 as the world has opened back up.
- On Monday, it became a billion-dollar publicly traded company after ROVR began trading following a SPAC deal. What started as a project incubated in Madrona Venture Group, the pet-sitting marketplace grew over the last decade by acquiring some of its competition, like DogVacay, and it survived a SoftBank blitz after the Japanese giant funded its rival Wag with hundreds of millions of dollars.
- It's not the only recent pet company to go public this summer. BarkBox's parent company also did a SPAC in June.
Investors are barking up the pet tech tree, and backing startups selling everything from fresh food to smart dog collars. And like everything else in today's funding environment, the deals are happening fast.
- Last week, Embark announced it was valued at $700 million after a $75 million investment from SoftBank in July.
- Whistle founder Steven Eidelman is back in the pet tech space with Modern Animal, a vet clinic and telemedicine company that announced over $75 million in funding also last week.
- Influencers are in on the game. This week, TikTok star Charli D'Amelio and her family did a campaign with smart dog collar maker Halo (which was co-founded by famed pet psychologist Cesar Millan). They reportedly have a small investment in the company.
Pets are estimated to fuel a $110 billion industry in the U.S. alone in 2021, according to the American Pet Products Association, which tracks spending across food, supplies, vet care and services like grooming and boarding.
- The majority (an estimated $42 billion) is spent on food, and there's several venture-backed companies like Ollie, The Farmer's Dog and Wild Earth.
- Supplies and OTC medicine is the next largest sector. There's personalized supplements from Goodboy to a bunch of IoT dog collars and treat dispensers, like Furbo and Petcube.
- Vet care (and subsequent products) is the third-biggest spend, and startups are taking advantage of our remote healthcare world to bring it to pets. Startups include Eidelman's Modern Animal, Fuzzy and Airvet.
- The last catch-all category, which includes grooming, training and boarding, is an estimated $9.7 billion.
So where are the opportunities? Lerer Hippeau's Meagan Loyst has one of the best breakdowns on what's happening in the pet tech space, and she pinpointed a few white spaces, like building a national brand for pet training or non-food pet supplies. "While there are many marketplaces today that help new and existing pet owners find non-food pet supplies for their furry friends, there are not many companies that are creating next-gen loved and trusted brands that resonate with Millennial and Gen Z consumers," she wrote.
After all, a favorite phrase for Millennials is that they work hard to give their dogs or cats a better life. Investors see plenty of opportunities to capture some of that upside. (Or are those "op-purr-tunities"?)
A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB
Singapore is fast becoming a global hotbed of tech innovation. It's easy to see why. Nearly 80 of the world's top 100 tech firms have set up outposts there, including Google, Facebook, Stripe, Salesforce and homegrown unicorns like the super-app Grab.
Stay in the know with upcoming Protocol virtual events:
- 8/10: "Going Global." On Tuesday, I'm hosting a special Protocol Pipeline event on how tech companies expand internationally. I'll be talking to some superstars from the industry: Accel's Rich Wong; Atomic founder-in-residence (and early Uber city launcher) Swathy Prithivi; and Oliver Jay, Asana's global revenue head who also launched Dropbox's APAC offices. Sign up here and join us at 9 a.m. PT.
- 8/17: "A Better Meeting." How to have meetings that aren't "this should've been an email" level. Hosted by David Pierce and featuring Mural and Calendly. Sign up here.
- A lot of startups want hype to bring in users and investors, but it can be dangerous for consumer social startups too. "As tempting and sexy as hype may be, I'm a believer in avoiding it as long as possible," writes Benchmark's Sarah Tavel.
- "When you see a rocket ship, don't overthink it. Just get on board." That's the advice Coatue Ventures' chair and ex-Facebook exec Dan Rose wishes he had after he fumbled his initial job offer from Facebook in what was nearly the biggest mistake of his career.
- Filed under things I can't stop thinking about: Sam Lessin's column on "The end of venture capital as we know it."
- If you're wanting to understand all the new funds, global LP group RAISE mapped a selection of the emerging funds, from generalist to fintech to underrepresented minority focused.
Need to Know
- The carried interest loophole could be closed. Democrats are taking another swing at tax rates on the performance fees venture capitalists and private equity investors earn.
- A call for a human-rights diligence process. A survey from Amnesty International found the 10 largest venture funds had no formal mechanisms for evaluating if their startups contributed to human rights abuses.
- More funds are disclosing their LP base. I wrote about the trend of venture firms being more transparent about who their beneficiaries are.
- Hopin is now worth $7.75 billion. It's a staggering number for a two-year-old company that's raised four times since the start of the pandemic, but one symbolic of the venture craze around video calls.
- Mapbox workers voted against a union. The group is the second software-focused union allied with CWA to have recently lost a formal vote; in March, the Medium union fell one vote short of the majority it needed for formal recognition.
- Release radar: I had to sit up straighter just to write this. Zen, a new startup out of YC, uses your webcam to tell when you're slouching and gently remind you to correct your posture.
- On Protocol: Allocations wants to boost group investing by making it easier to create SPVs. It emerged from stealth this week as a challenger to Carta and Assure.
- Also on Protocol: Want to succeed on GitHub? Your odds are better if you're white.
- Your weekend reading: "It" had been hyped as a device to kill the personal computer, a feat of technology never seen before — "it" even had a $250,000 book deal and John Doerr, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos all enamored with it. Then "it" was revealed to be the Segway, a device now the punch line of jokes and not the massive urban-transport revolution as promised. But this story isn't just about the life and death of the Segway; it's written by the book agent who has harbored a fear that he was the one that killed the Segway. Pour yourself another coffee and read Dan Kois' story "This is going to change the world."
Five Questions With...
Tercera's Chris Barbin
While most investors are looking at investing in software or hardware businesses, Chris Barbin launched Tercera with a $225 million fund to invest in services businesses like consulting firms. He had built his own, Appirio, in 2006 which he sold to Wipro 10 years later for $500 million. As a self-described "work hard, play hard" entrepreneur, he's also the founder of Sip Tequila and is a venture partner at GGV.
What's a problem you want to see a startup solve?
I am fascinated by all things corporate culture, and so: Can a startup solve interviewing for culture? What is the way that you can actually interview people so that that individual will bind into your culture?
What's one of the worst predictions you've ever made?
Probably the financial forecast of some of the acquisitions that we did at Appirio. Honestly, it has shaped a lot of our thinking around how we help companies grow inorganically versus organic, especially in services. Acquiring service companies is very hard and a lot of the money that does flow in is for roll-ups, like let's put a bunch of companies together, get it bigger and sell it. I just think in professional services that's a real recipe for disaster and we learned some hard lessons in that area.
What startup sector is most underrated right now, outside of your firm's focus?
Ed tech. I think the future of higher ed in particular will look so different when our grandkids are going to school. I just watch the way my teenagers learn. I feel like there's so much innovation, there's a lot of players, but I think that's an area that decades from now will be huge. And the merger of higher ed will come together with technology companies.
What company outside of your portfolio have you been most impressed to watch this year?
Amazon. How they reacted to the pandemic with a ridiculous surge in demand and onboarding hundreds of thousands of people — maybe everyone can argue that it hasn't been super graceful — but the scale at which they've done things and continue to innovate is just mind-blowing.
What's your favorite tequila recipe?
Neat. People always say "What's your favorite tequila?" and I always say, "It's what you like best." But I think just sipping tequila on the rocks with an orange wedge is best. Everyone does it with lime, and they think margarita. But an orange added to an extra añejo is a really good balance. So that's my go-to recipe: extra añejo, on the rocks, with an orange wedge.
A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB
Business leaders say they choose Singapore for its modern tech infrastructure, strong government support, robust pipeline of talent and pro-business regulations (the World Bank ranks it No. 2 in the world for ease of doing business). Plus, its location in the heart of Southeast Asia serves as a launchpad into the bustling Asian-Pacific market.
Thanks for reading this week's Protocol Pipeline and let Chris know if you try his tequila suggestion. If you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it in your inbox. And don't forget to sign up for our Pipeline event, Going Global, on August 10. Send story tips and newsletter feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.