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Online Learning Marketplace Udemy Lands $12M To Expand Its Course Catalog, Go Cross-Platform
In 2010, Udemy set out to capitalize on the growing market for video-based online education by launching a learning platform that allows anyone to teach and participate in online video classes. Yet, as the space has gotten more crowded, the startup has focused on becoming not just another online course platform, but a learning marketplace where educators of all stripes can earn compensation for sharing their knowledge on everything from front-end development to yoga.

So far, it’s been working. Udemy has attracted about 400K registered students and a quarter of its approved instructors have made at least $10K from selling their courses on the site — with some even seeing six-figure earnings. With Udemy taking 30 percent of those earnings, co-founder Eren Bali recently told us that, over the last nine months, the company has seen steady 20 percent month-over-month growth.

Building on this consistent growth, the startup is announcing today that it has raised $12 million in series B financing, led by Insight Venture Partners. Existing investors Lightbank Capital, MHS Capital and Learn Capital all contributed to the round, which brings Udemy’s total funding to $16 million.

The co-founder tells us that the startup will be using its new injection of capital to expand the range and types of content it offers to learners, as well as fuel its upcoming push across new platforms. Alongside its new raise, Udemy is also today adding a new member to its executive team, hiring Dennis Yang as its president and COO. Prior to joining Udemy, Yang was an executive advisor to Udemy, Mogo.ca and Flipboard and held varios senior management positions at 4INFO and Good Technology, among others.

While Udemy has plenty of competition from an array of video-based learning platforms and MOOCs like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, Lynda.com, Skillshare and more recently CourseHero, the company has been able to maintain its growth trajectory. The startup’s platform currently offers over 5,000 courses, 400 of which were added in October alone. In addition, more than 1,500 of its courses are paid, a number that has increased 7-fold since last year, Bali told us recently.

Teachers can offer their classes for free or add a paywall, with the average price for classes falling between $20 and $200. The number of students in each vary, but the most popular classes routinely see more than 500 students. Udemy’s courses are delivered on demand so that adult learners can take them at their own pace, and instructors are able to collaborate with students to build a curriculum for their students from videos, slide presentations, PDFs, documents, articles, links, photos and live conferences.

Piggybacking on the disruptive market dynamics of MOOCs and other web-based learning platforms, Udemy is building a viable business, and being one of the early companies to bring the marketplace model to video-based education, its finds itself in a great position. The company recently began to partner with universities to offer leadership development solutions, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Udemy continue to begin more aggressively pursuing B2B offerings, like enterprise training or education solutions for employers.

More on Udemy at home here or in our recent coverage of the company’s new course creation platform for teachers.
eCommerce  Education  Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  udemy  edtech  from google
december 2012 by davebriggs
Winston Is Siri’s Older, More Distinguished Colleague Who Tells You The News And Weather
Two lads working with DreamIt Ventures, Aaron Ting and Jarod Stewart, have built something called Winston. Winston is a conversational assistant that deals in information. He will wake you up with a morning briefing about the current news and weather as well as notes from your social feed. Think of it as one of those windows in sci-fi movies that light up in the morning and give the hero the bad news that he/she is wanted by the intergalactic police.

“Winston is a marriage of Conversational Interface and Flipboard-style web content cohesion; we think this combination is really different and extremely compelling,” said Ting.

The company received $25,000 from DreamIt and just opened a $500,000 note.

“We were thinking about Smart TVs, and realized that even if you put a really sophisticated web browser on a Smart TV, a lot of your online social addictions and news addictions are lean-forward, text-heavy experiences that you wouldn’t want to consume from your couch. So we decided to build an app that could take all of this text-heavy content and turn it into an audiovisual newscast – an experience that you can listen to and watch.”

Interaction with Winston is fairly limited. Think of it as calling your assistant into the room and asking for a rundown of the day’s happenings. You’ll learn various bits of information without having to squint at your phone and you can enable Winston while driving or before bed.

“Winston will brighten your mornings with a beautiful audiovisual news briefing. During the day, you’ll be able to drive safely while staying tuned to your social updates using Winston’s ‘eyes-free’ mode,” said Ting.

The app is currently in its relative infancy but you can try it out at GetWinston.com.
Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  Winston  DreamIt  from google
august 2012 by lem0nayde
Diffbot Raises $2 Million Angel Round For Web Content Extraction Technology
Diffbot, the super-geeky/awesome visual learning robot technology which aims to “see” the web the way that people do, is today announcing a new infusion of capital. The company has closed $2 million in funding from a number of technology veterans, including EarthLink founder Sky Dayton; Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab; Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of YouSendIt (and formerly of TechCrunch parent company AOL), Maynard Webb, LiveOps CEO, formerly eBay COO; Elad Gil, VP of Corporate Strategy at Twitter; Jonathan Heiliger, former VP of Technical Operations at Facebook; Redbeacon co-founder Aaron Lee; and founder of VitalSigns Montgomery Kersten.

Matrix Partners also participated in the round. Of the new investors, Sky Dayton will be the first to join Diffbot’s board and will be taking an active role in the company, including plans to go hands-on with various Diffbot projects.

Last August, the company publicly debuted its first APIs, which allow developers to build apps that can automatically extract meaning from web pages. For example, the  Front Page API is able to analyze site homepages, and understands the difference between article text, headlines, bylines, ads, etc. The Article API can then extract clean article text, images and videos. Another example of Diffbot in action is the “follow API,” which can track the changes made to a website.

Today, Diffbot has categorized the web into about 20 different page types, including homepages and article pages, which are the first two types it can now identity. Going forward, Diffbot plans train its bots to recognize all the other types of pages, including product pages, social networking profiles, recipe pages, review pages, and more.

Its APIs have been put to use by AOL (again: disclosure, TC parent) in its news magazine AOL Editions, as well as by companies like Nuance, SocMetrics, and others. Diffbot says it’s now processing 100 million API calls per month on behalf of its customers. Thousands of developers are using the APIs, the company notes, but paying customers are only in the “tens.” Correction: we’re now told they have “a lot more!”

Diffbot founder and CEO Michael Tung (aka “Diffbot Mike”) says the new funding will  be put towards new hires and expanding its resources. “More than that, we’re receiving a huge vote of confidence from veterans who have built massive companies and understand the fine points of building for scale, maintaining uptime and delivering the absolute highest standards of service.”

Tung is a patent attorney and Stanford PhD student who left the doctoral program to pursue Diffbot, thanks to seed funding from Stanford’s incubator, StartX. Diffbot was StartX’s first investment. With today’s funding, Diffbot total raise is $2 million and change.
Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  diffbot  web_extraction  robot  AI  developoers  api  from google
may 2012 by lem0nayde
Empty Walls Got You Down? TurningArt Nabs $1.5M For Its Netflix-Style Art Rental Service
Over the last few years, a number of startups have begun to tackle the musty old industry that surrounds fine art. While approaches vary, they all in some way seek to capitalize on the Web’s ability to level the playing field, leveraging digital technologies to make art more accessible to a broader range of consumers. Paddle8, Artsy, Zazzle, and Art.com, for example, are all taking steps to democratize the purchase, discovery, and enjoyment of art by bringing it online.

In August 2010, Boston-based TurningArt launched its own unique spin on the democratization of art commerce with a Netflix-esque model that allows any and all to “rent” and enjoy contemporary art. To support its mission to transform the way people buy artwork, the startups is today announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in funding from a number of institutional and angel investors.

As a result of its new round, one of its angel investors, Fouad Elnaggar, who is currently an SVP at CBS Interactive (as well as a former VC at Redpoint Ventures) will be joining TurningArt’s board of directors. Elnaggar joins NextView Venture’s David Beisel, who was added to the board when his firm invested in TurningArt’s $750K seed round in May of last year. Niraj Shah, Steve Conine, Thomas Lehrman, and Will Herman also contributed to the startup’s initial seed round.

While TurningArt declined to disclose further information about the participants in its latest financing, we do know that NextView re-upped its investment this time around and that angel investor Andy Rankin joined as a new investor.

All in all, with $2+ million in outside funding raised to date, TurningArt plans to build on the 350 percent increase in its customer base its’ found so far this year, using the capital to expand its artwork collection, build up its core team, and introduce a handful of new delivery options.

As to how it works: TurningArt partners with independent artists from across the country to allow consumers to test out (i.e. rent) prints of their original artwork, without having to commit to purchasing the piece, which in many cases would be far more expensive than one is willing (or able) to afford. For $10 a month, customers can search the startup’s repository of thousands of independent works, with the option to ship whenever a particular piece strikes their fancy.

The print arrives framed and ready to hang on the wall right out of the box (it even includes a nail) and users can keep the piece for as long as they’d like — although, admittedly, this sounds like the same policy that got Blockbuster into trouble with its late fees. However, as you show the piece off to your friends, loved ones, and cats, leaving it to hang on the wall, you earn credit towards a purchase.

If you don’t like the print, you can just head over to your Netflix-like queue and prompt TurningArt to send you the next piece on your list. What’s more, the startup’s handmade frames make switching prints easy — no tools are required — so you don’t even have to send the prints back, as you might with a Netflix DVD.

Obviously, TurningArt’s value proposition is twofold. The thousands of consumers now using the startup’s platform have a simple way to discover cool contemporary art, test those artworks at home, live in 3-D, and then purchase the piece if they’re so inclined. However, on the flip side, the company has already attracted hundreds of artists for the simple reason that TurningArt provides them with an easy way to expose their work to a whole new set of customers — at no cost.

What’s more, since all of the original works that the rentable prints represent are available for purchase directly through the startup’s site (prices for the works tend to frange from $50 to $5,000), artists have the opportunity not only to reach new customers and increase their own brand recognition, but to convert renters into buyers.

TurningArt gives the lion’s share of all sales to the artist, on top of a portion of the subscription revenue that comes from users “renting” their prints.

Going forward, the startup will look to introduce its platform to a broader segment of the $26 billion art market, iterate on its delivery options, and go after more high profile contemporary artists. While companies like Zazzle offer cool AR technologies that allow customers to customize and visualize their products online, the potential market for actual, in-home art test-driving has to be huge.

Applying a Netflix-style rental model to the ways by which consumers experience and purchase art is appealing, of course, it’s all about inventory. Scaling this distribution model, Netflix style, can be expensive, but it all comes back to quality. Too many steps in the process, or art that’s equivalent to something that can be found at Walmart likely won’t result in any significant customer retention.

What do you think?

Also: For readers interested in taking the service for a test drive, TurningArt is offering a TechCrunch sign-up code, which will give the first 100 people to follow this link to try their first month of TurningArt for free.
ecommerce  Fundings_&_Exits  Media  Startups  TC  Art  commerce  funding  turningart  from google
may 2012 by lem0nayde
From 0 To $1 Billion In Two Years: Instagram’s Rose-Tinted Ride To Glory
Even now, it’s still shocking how the remarkably low distribution costs of the web can change a founder’s fate overnight. Many startups are duds, and most grow at a clip that’s just not fast enough to justify an interesting valuation.

But once in awhile, a company comes along and just nails it. The right timing. The right market. The right place. Then all the rules you know about multiples, comparable benchmarks and so on just buckle under the pressure of momentum.

I met Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger before they were working together. Mike, or “Mikey,” is one of the sweetest, most self-effacing engineers and user experience designers I know. At the time, he was toiling away at Meebo. He would test their interface with groups of high school students he brought into the company’s Mountain View office. Funnily enough, while in university, he actually worked on a photo-sharing project for a class. It was a featurephone-era app for treating seasonal affective disorder and it was called something like, “Send Me Some Sunshine.” The idea was that one user on one side of the world would send a photo of sunshine to another in a wintery climate with fewer hours of daylight just to cheer them up.

Systrom, meanwhile, had just come off of a year at Nextstop, a travel-oriented startup that had sold to Facebook in a talent acquisition. He had also spent a year in Google’s corporate development department (read: the department that does M&A). But after interning at the company that would become Twitter, he always had the itch to do something on his own.

In early 2010, Systrom was messing around with a few ideas. Back then, location was hot, hot, hot. Foursquare had launched about a year earlier and had made the check-in a cultural phenomenon. It made sense to experiment with location. Perhaps an HTML5-based check-in app was the way to go.

So Systrom, ever the connoisseur of fine whiskeys, tested an app called Burbn. It was very basic. It had about four tabs. You could “Move” or check in somewhere new. You could also post your plans, echoing Plancast, a service built by a TechCrunch alum Mark Hendrickson. But from a user experience perspective, it was a little rickety. HTML5 has latency issues (as you might be able to tell from Facebook’s current mobile apps, which are largely written in HTML5).

Users weren’t exactly checking in all the time on Burbn. Instead, we were sharing photos. Latte photos. Dog photos. Beer photos. Photos of our reflection in the bathroom mirror taken with an iPhone. Just mundane photos of everyday life.

It was around this time that Krieger, who was ready for change after a year and a half at Meebo, came on board. He ended up being a fantastic complement to Systrom, who had honed his programming skills while building Burbn. Krieger joined Systrom in Dogpatch Labs when it was still at San Francisco’s Pier 38.

The pair looked at how users in Burbn’s beta gravitated toward photo-sharing and then studied every single popular app in the photography category.

They scrapped Burbn and started over. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t clear at the time that this the was right move. The photography category seemed saturated, but Systrom saw an opening that many others didn’t. Hipstamatic was super-fun and came packaged with all of these filters, but it wasn’t very social. Systrom thought there was a sweet spot in between Hipstamatic and Facebook, and that’s precisely where Instagram landed.

It took several months of prototyping and experimentation. There was a precursor to Instagram called Scotch, but it didn’t have filters and it was slow and buggy. Yet the concept of photo-sharing kept calling out to them.

With their UX skills, Krieger and Systrom refined Instagram to require as few actions as possible. Unlike the original version of Path, Instagram didn’t force users to add tags about people or places to their photos. A photo could be posted in as few as three clicks. Mirroring Twitter, they made Instagram public by default.

After months of testing, Instagram launched on Oct. 06, 2010. Systrom and Krieger didn’t know exactly what to expect, but 25,000 users showed up on the first day. For late 2010 when there were fewer iPhones on the market, that was a big number. The traffic was so overwhelming that they didn’t get home until 6 a.m. the next day.

After that, it was just a whirlwind ride. Instagram had nailed the timing. The iPhone 4 was just arriving and its camera was finally good enough to cannibalize point-and-shoot cameras. Apple also had an installed base of iOS devices that was now large enough to produce the network effects that Instagram needed to take off.

Instagram hit one million users in three months. Then that became two million, which then became 10 million users. Unlike many apps at the top of the charts, Instagram didn’t have to spend a dime to get where it was. It was organic growth.

Krieger had to carry around his laptop everywhere and be ready to whip it out at a moment’s notice in case the site crumbled under the server load. (He often did this. In the middle of dinner. In a bar. Everywhere and thankfully so, since there was never any Instagram version of Twitter’s infamous “Fail Whale.”)

Every month seemed more unreal. When Justin Bieber joined, there was literally a visible spike in activity as thousands of girls responded to his every photo. Then there was the time that Bieber’s agent called up Systrom demanding that the pop star be compensated for using Instagram. As the story goes, Systrom said no and Bieber ended up using it anyway.

Kevin and Mikey weirdly became celebrities in their own right. Krieger met Michelle Obama at the State of the Union. Systrom met U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and hung out with Jamie Oliver. They appeared on magazine covers.

All the while, Systrom kept saying he never felt threatened by Facebook. Facebook’s mobile apps were just too complicated. The iOS app just had too many things in it. To please the company’s more than 850 million monthly active users, Facebook had to stuff every bell and whistle of the desktop site into its mobile app. That just wasn’t conducive to a great user experience on a phone.

In contrast, Instagram kept its app lean. They didn’t change much to the app’s essential experience even as its user base ballooned. It was more important to say ‘No’ to new features instead of ‘Yes.’ When Instagram took funding from Benchmark Capital, their new board member Matt Cohler, who came from Facebook, encouraged them to focus on growth first and worry about the revenue model later.

Indeed, when you have a consumer-facing app that is going to be advertising dependent, scale matters most. If you don’t have the eyeballs, you don’t get the advertising dollars.

Instagram had grown so fast that Systrom appeared on-stage last month at SXSW to announce that the app had 27 million registered users. That was nearly twice the size of Foursquare and the app was still only on one platform. If you consider that Apple has said it has sold a cumulative 315 million iOS devices to date, that implies that Instagram is probably on more than 10 percent of all active iPhones.

Systrom made a veiled threat to Facebook on-stage last month at SXSW. He said he thought of Instagram as more of a social network than a photo-sharing app.

He said, “It’s Facebook-level engagement that we’re seeing.”

Last week when Instagram launched on Android, it racked up more than 1 million users in 24 hours. In the blink of an eye, Instagram may have ended up with 50 million users. With Android and iOS adding more devices per month than Facebook is adding users, there was a threat that a brand new social network could spring up right under Facebook’s nose.

The rationale for the deal makes sense. As for the price? You can debate all you want about the price, considering that Instagram was still pre-revenue and had about a dozen employees. Whatever price it went for at this stage, it was going to be controversial. And Instagram was going to be worth whatever Mark Zuckerberg felt like paying for it. That is the definition of “worth” — it’s whatever the market will bear. We can talk about the Bubble-nomics in another post.

In the end, it’s been a truly wild ride for the pair. Congrats, guys. You’re damn lucky, but you earned it too.
apps  Fundings_&_Exits  Mobile  Social  Startups  TC  Venture  Venture_Capital  from google
april 2012 by willrodgers
Social Travel: InBed.me, An Airbnb For Hostel Hoppers, Picks Up A $1.2M Seed Round
The success of Airbnb may have unleashed a wave of attention on companies using social media and the Internet to disrupt how travel is planned and booked: today, “social” hostel booking site inBed.me is announcing that it has raised a seed round of $1.2 million, from a list of investors including Ventech, Quotidian Ventures, CAP Ventures and founders Fabrice Grinda (OLX, Zingy) and Dave Lerner (Columbia Venture Labs, Venture Studio), among others.

While Airbnb’s main focus is on offering rooms in private houses, inBed.me has turned its attention to the budget/student travel market, specifically the hostels that are the mainstay accommodation in that sector. Users can use the site to book rooms, share their bookings with others, and see who else is staying in the same place to plan a meetup in advance.

And when you think about it, this is a great idea, considering that in many cases student travelers are on the lookout to meet other people to explore new places together, and in some cases even coordinate their travels to end up in one place at the same time. (I know I could have used something like this when I did my own backpacking stint…)

In addition to its backers, the company has a nice pedigree: launched in Startup Weekend New York, it took part of Startup Chile; and participated of NXTP Labs, an Argentinian startup accelerator that is part of the TechStars Network. All that helped to catch the attention of a group of advisors that include Viator Travel founder Rod Cuthbert.

InBed.me says it will be using the funding to expand the usefulness of its service by integrating it with other social networks — currently a user can sign in with only Facebook — and developing iOS and Android apps. It also plans to initiate a strategy of growing out its business in targeted geographical locations.

First up will be South America — sensible since the company is co-headquartered in Bogota, Colombia and New York; but also because of the imminent arrival of the World Cup in Brazil, and the fact that this is a popular destination among students and young backpacking travelers at the moment.

Founded only last year, right now there are only 1,200 hostels on inBed.me, but as part of its expansion, it is also announcing a partnership with Hostelworld, an Ireland-based company that is currently the market leader in booking hostels online.

That will see the integration of Hostelworld’s database into inBed.me’s system to allow people to book beds in some 25,000 hostels. This was a smart move on the part of inBed.me, because in a sense Hostelworld is probably its biggest competitor. (Crazily enough, that still accounts for only half the hostels in the world: the company says there are some 50,000 in operation today.)

Ultimately, the company’s CEO, Diego Saez-Gil, tells me that the goal is to widen out to include other kinds of places to stay, and to focus on more regional expansion. Europe will probably be next up for the company, he says.
Fundings_&_Exits  TC  from google
march 2012 by willrodgers
A Big Idea: Y Combinator Now Lets Founders Apply Without… An Idea
Venture firms like to pull in experienced founders to become entrepreneurs in residence — people who typically come in without a clear idea of what they want to do, who may simply be tasked with thinking up a new company.

Y Combinator is now bringing this type of free-form entrepreneurialism to its seed-stage fund. With a twist.

If you’re a prospective founding team (or a uniquely promising individual), it is now letting you apply to join its next class of founders without an idea. This might sound contrarian at first, but it perfectly fits the early-stage startup model, where the team is what makes the company win, rather than the initial concept. Here’s more, from the description out today from Paul Graham and Co:

Why are we doing this? Partly because we realized we already were. A lot of the startups we accept change their ideas completely, and some of those do really well. Reddit was originally going to be a way to order food on your cellphone. (This is a viable idea now, but it wasn’t before smartphones.) Scribd was originally going to be a ridesharing service.

Another way to look at this is that YC now has an even lower-friction way to attract talent. Which, again, is sometimes what VCs do with EIRs. But better, because unlike venture portfolio companies in various stages of maturity, each YC class is chock full of other companies iterating on and often completely switching plans. It’s not hard to imagine that talented people without ideas of their own might become cofounders around stronger projects if they don’t finalize their own, even if that’s not the primary intention here.

If this new piece of the YC program proves to be successful — the firm is careful to describe this as an experiment — I suspect we’ll see it get adopted by the many other early-stage firms, accelerators and incubators out there.
Fundings_&_Exits  Social  TC  from google
march 2012 by willrodgers
The Birth Of An American Giant—Basic Clothing Sold On The Web
Nothing is made in this country anymore. In terms of actual manufacturing, America is increasingly at a disadvantage. The logic of the global economy moves jobs overseas. Get used to it, we are told. Well, Bayard Winthrop thinks the conventional wisdom is wrong. He wants to bring manufacturing back to America, in the apparel industry, no less! His clothing startup, American Giant (gotta love the name), launches today.

American Giant is starting small, with a line of basic sweatshirts made in Brisbane, CA. American Giant doesn’t have any stores. It sells its sweatshirts only on the web, and soon will expand to other men’s basics such as T-shirts, polos, and button-downs. While the cost of materials and labor would be cheaper in Asia, a much bigger portion of the cost of a shirt is distribution.

By eliminating stores and going direct to consumer, American Giant can cut out a lot of the costs in the apparel industry and pass the savings onto consumers while still making better quality clothing. By controlling manufacturing, Winthrop also expects to be able to reduce his production cycles to 3 months or less instead of the 18 to 24-month cycles typical in the industry. By reducing cycle times, American Giant will be able to experiment more with styles and products and then increase production for the products which generate the most demand.

American Giant is a startup with 10 people and less than $5 million in funding, but the little giant is going after the Gap, J.Crew, and Old Navy. There is “no brand affinity” to those stores among men, argues Winthrop. “They don’t have a reason to live.”

How does he hope to compete? Simple: with better quality. “I feel like in the apparel sector the whole idea of quality has gone way,” says Winthrop, who has spent the past two decades in the apparel industry, most recently as CEO of Chrome, a chain of urban men’s clothing stores.

Winthrop wanted to make an “old-school navy sweatshirt” like the one his father used to wear that lasted 40 years, not the kind you buy at Old Navy. His first line of sweatshirts will be priced at a reasonable $59, but they are made with heavyweight cotton, double- and triple-needle stitching, thick ribbing at the waist, additional panels along the side for a better fit, and other construction details such as metal snaps designed in-house.

But can a Web-only clothing brand work? “Consumers are moving more online and spending more money online,” notes Winthrop. “Consumers’ expectations of value and quality are changing. The days of us walking into Macy’s and paying full retail for a shirt are basically going away.”

Watch the video above, in which Winthrop shows off his new sweatshirts and talks about his approach to American manufacturing.
eCommerce  Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  Video  American_Giant  from google
february 2012 by amitry
Things Entrepreneurs Should Avoid When Raising Capital
Editor’s note: Contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder and CEO of WatchMojo.  Follow him @ashkan.

Alright, in my last post I argued that bootstrapping is just as over-rated as raising venture capital. But for those who decide to pursue fundraising, here are some things entrepreneurs should avoid when raising capital.

For all of the talk about how much excess capital there is, it’s actually hard to raise capital because very few projects fit the VC profile—even though many VC-funded projects come across as frivolous, me-too projects.

Life’s unfair.  To quote Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”  Personally, I’ve bootstrapped my company; initially because I didn’t have to raise capital and then because I didn’t play the game properly or refused to accept what came with the territory.

Do VCs Really Make a Difference?

In Chamath Palihapitiya’s leaked email to AirBNB’s Brian Chesky, he wrote:

I’m all for getting the best valuation you can, minimizing dilution and maximizing control (…) I don’t believe investors add much to a success story, so minimizing their impact is a great strategy when you are onto something that is working.

For the record, a good VC helps through advice and introductions and the best VCs also serve as amazing therapists and coaches.

Zynga’s Mark Pincus blames entrepreneurs for sometimes giving VCs the power to kill your business or take it away from you.  So if you are going to raise VC, here are some things you need to accept and avoid before signing on the dotted line.

What You Need To Accept (it’s the system)

There are some seemingly unfair things about VC:

VCs invest in Preferred Shares whereas founders and managers have Common Shares.  This is actually not all that unjust, but many entrepreneurs don’t know the difference, even though preferred shareholders get paid first whenever there is a liquidity event.
The VCs’ legal fees are paid from the money you are raising.  That one is a bit more unfair, but it avoids protracted negotiations since VCs will offer you standard terms and don’t plan on deviating much.
As the entrepreneur you have one baby whereas the investor has his eggs in multiple baskets, so they won’t care as much about your company as you do –that’s normal and to be expected.

While a term sheet contains more clauses and the subsequent unanimous shareholder agreement will include drag along and piggy back rights clauses, investors do need to protect themselves so expect things to be stacked in their favor.  The Drag Along allows a majority shareholder to enforce minority shareholders to be dragged along in the event of a sale whether they like it or not so that they don’t waste the big shareholder’s time, basically.  The Piggy Back allows a minority shareholder to sell their shares at the same price offered to majority shareholders.

What You Need to Avoid – Part 1 (it’s them)

Board composition

Be careful how much power you give up early on at the board level because before you know it, you will have less than 50% of the voting shares and when the going gets rough, you will want to avoid boardroom shenanigans that may cost you your job and stake.

Chairmanship

This one is tricky.  If you’re the average technical founder, you may have no business (or interest) running a board.  Even most business founders lack the experience of running a board.  But the board is ultimately responsible to appoint the CEO and the Chairman runs the board, so if you can hold on to the Chairmanship, you should.  It’s common for VCs to appoint one of their partners to the board – as they should.  It’s also common sometimes for that VC to become the Chairman.  But unless someone is a major investor in your company or you managed to land a big industry veteran whom you trust, they shouldn’t be the Chairman, though your company will hopefully get to a point where you may step aside and make room for a new Chairman.

Liquidation preference

The liquidation preference determines how the pie is shared in a liquidity event (M&A, IPO).  In a fair situation: investors get their money back before anyone else does, even though the risk and return tradeoff would require that everyone wins or loses together.  But with leverage a VC will be able to land a 1x liquidation preference; which is standard.  If they ask for anything more than that, tell them to take a hike; you’ll never see a return.

Vesting

It’s one thing for investors to back a founder based on a Powerpoint presentation or business plan – the proverbial idea on a napkin – but it’s another thing for VCs to join an ongoing party.  In either case, VCs tend to require founders to essentially give up their equity and earn it back (hence vesting) over a period of years.  In the latter scenario, this feels like marrying a woman after years of dating her but having to earn the right to share a bed.

I understand why VCs want to feel protected against departing or ineffective founders, but there’s a problem when VCs can both push a founder out and require them to vest their shares and earn them back.

What You Need to Avoid – Part 2 (it’s you)

Ok, now stop blaming others – what are you doing wrong?

Raise Money When You Can, Not When You Have To

One of the more popular adages is not raising money when your back is to the wall and instead raising money when you can, under better terms.  As entrepreneurs, we’re occasionally too optimistic and this clouds our judgment.

But Don’t Raise As Much As You Can

Conventional wisdom suggests that you “raise as much money as you can” but that is good for investors but bad for entrepreneurs, raise a reasonable amount – don’t order with your eyes.

Don’t be too Fearful: These are your Partners

Yes, only the paranoid survive, but not all VCs are out to get you and dilute you of your holdings.  Yes, some VC relationships go awry, especially if the company isn’t growing fast enough and the investment is at risk, but ultimately all partnerships risk going sour.  If you go into a VC relationship thinking that they’re out to get you, you’ll poison things.

Don’t be too Greedy: Strike a fair valuation

Yes, greed is good, but too much greed will kill things.  When an investor is considering making an investment, he is driven by greed; once he is involved with a company, fear becomes a factor.  Unless you offer the investor a potential to earn an abnormal return on his investment, he’ll balk and back the next entrepreneur.

While raising capital is hard, what happens afterwards is much harder – make sure you stick around to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

(If you enjoyed this, then you may enjoy my old rant Top 10 Mistakes VCs Make).
Fundings_&_Exits  Opinion  TC  Startup_Advice  Venture_Capital  from google
january 2012 by readywater
How To Start Smart: The Five Things To Know When Approaching An Incubator
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Jon Paris, CEO and co-founder of Astrid To-Do. Astrid participated in AngelPad and immediately raised a successful seed round from Google Ventures and other investors. His opinions are his own.

Incubators are playing an increasingly vital role in acquiring meaningful investment for first-time entrepreneurs. TechCrunch reported that elite accelerators like Y Combinator receive on average one application every minute, and AngelPad reminds its participants that it is many times more selective than the Harvard Business School.

Incubators ask for a 2 to 10 percent stake in your company, a sum that could alternatively be used to attract a junior co-founder or provide meaningful ownership to the first few engineers you enlist. In return, incubators offer intensive coaching, networking with other founders, and warm introductions to likely investors. Incubators give first-time entrepreneurs and international teams alike a crucial link to Silicon Valley.

In addition to the giving up meaningful equity there are other downsides to consider before participating in an incubator. Most have a schedule that’s built on a demo near the end of the program. While many companies view that external structure as helpful, others can find that working with such a timeline damages their business.

The long lead up to D-Day could mean a delay in fundraising or product lunch, which in turn can translate into missed opportunities. There are other potential pitfalls, from committing too quickly and prematurely to an idea, to trying to scale before properly understanding a market and the company’s place in it. And with any robust community, there’s the danger of succumbing to groupthink. Founders need to remember they understand their market better than anyone.

For most first-time founders, these downsides are far outweighed by the benefits. Below are some lessons I regularly share with prospective entrepreneurs interested in applying to incubators.

1. Know their interest and expertise

When planning to apply to such incubators as 500 Startups, Y Combinator, TechStars or AngelPad, watch any and every online video you can find of incubator leaders outlining what they are looking for and what they can offer your company. Numerous incubator leaders, including Paul Graham, Thomas Korte and Dave McClure, have explicitly mapped out what they can bring to the table and what kind of companies they are targeting.

Know what’s important to the investors: Dave McClure at 500 Startups will want you to have a deep understanding of the micro-economics; AngelPad loves great B2B opportunities; and Y Combinator appreciates founders who have already demonstrated their smarts with submissions on Hacker News. They all will make exceptions, but you should pitch in a way that will resonate with the specific incubator.

2. Understand their challenge

All incubators play an arbitrage game, curating great early-stage startups for the community of larger investors. They need to believe they can readily convince other investors to put in an even larger sum at the end of the program. It is your job to convince them you have the raw material, which usually means great engineers (preferably branded by great universities or companies), beautiful design, strong team dynamics, and an ability to get a meaningful user base. If you have these ingredients, the incubator can help you polish your pitch and get in front of investors.

3. Intros matter

Getting a friendly introduction from someone the incubator knows can prevent your startup from getting buried in the application avalanche. The best intros come from people they trust who have insight into what it takes to start an effective company. Founders, fellow investors or former colleagues (hint: search LinkedIn for shared connections) can help get that needed extra attention. Intros from their friends and family members outside the startup ecosystem will be much less helpful. I got a key intro to AngelPad from the MoPub founders and to Y Combinator through Posterous co-founder Garry Tan.

4. They will be watching closely

Many incubators now require a video submission with your application and will follow up with an in-person or video chat with you and your co-founder(s). While these might cause the incubator to miss great people due to some unconscious bias, they also give a glimpse of confidence, charisma and, perhaps most importantly, your relationship with your colleagues.

The least you can do is ensure that everyone pays attention to whoever is speaking. If the engineer rolls his eyes, yawns or corrects the CEO when he speaks, the incubator might regard your startup as radioactive. If you get a live interview, make sure everyone has defined roles, with the CEO answering all market and business questions, the CTO answering all technical questions, etc. And practice the interview dozens of times. Enlist smart friends to barrage you with questions in rapid succession until you can confidently provide short and clear answers.

5. You’ll get a new Alma Mater

Incubator provides fantastic coaching and rich networking opportunities with other companies and investors during their programs. This is especially helpful for international teams that can boast great products and meaningful traction, but lack connections to the Silicon Valley investor community. But the time in the incubator is just the beginning. Months out, the mentors continue to provide trusted counsel and meaningful introductions.

Our incubator class provided us with thousands of dollars in free services and have consistently been among the first to try our new products, provide honest feedback and give them a five-star rating in the App Store. The camaraderie runs deep, fostered by shared experience and an understanding that each companies’ success will elevate everyone’s status.

Many first-time entrepreneurs succeed without participating in an incubator, in the same way many professionals can have successful careers without going to college. But this will increasingly be the exception. Young companies passing on the incubators can squander time, even years, when they could be building their networks, getting greater market feedback and scale their business with investor dollars.

In the past year, I have seen four great teams with early traction and Stanford founders stagnate while trying to do things on their own. Each had a few connections with the investor community, but they didn’t compare to what the best incubators deliver. Don’t make their mistake — if you want to build a company with world-wide impact, joining an incubator may be your most important early step toward achieving success.
Fundings_&_Exits  Opinion  Startups  TC  angelpad  TechStars  Y-Combinator  incubators  Jon_Paris  from google
january 2012 by readywater
How To Create An Early-Stage Pitch Deck For Investors
This is a guest post by Ryan Spoon (@ryanspoon), a principal at Polaris Ventures. Read more about Ryan on his blog at ryanspoon.com.

When raising capital, a combination of your company’s product, vision, team and execution are what ultimately attract investment. And while the pitch deck is ultimately less important than vision and product, it exists to convey both elements and get investors hungry for more.

Like other investors, I come across hundreds of pitches each month — some in person, others in email; some as PowerPoints, and others as full-fledged business plans. Your goal is to craft a deck that is both:

- crisp: succinct enough that it is easily digestible (in person, email, etc)

- and complete: thorough enough that it conveys the big vision and current traction

I looked back on many of the pitches I reviewed over the last couple years (good and bad) and compared it to public pitch decks of familiar, successful companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and Mint. The output is this guide to creating an early-stage pitch deck. It’s intended for companies seeking seed and series A investments.

There are five core themes followed by a suggested structure:

1. Have a great one-liner
2. Know your audience
3. Keep it to 10-15 slides
4. Beware of the demo
5. Expect the deck to be shared

And remember: it’s the story and the conversation that is important – not the imagery and colors. If you can convey the passion that drives you (and your users / customers!), you will have created a powerful pitch deck.
Fundings_&_Exits  TC  funding  from google
january 2012 by 1vq9
How To Create An Early-Stage Pitch Deck For Investors
This is a guest post by Ryan Spoon (@ryanspoon), a principal at Polaris Ventures. Read more about Ryan on his blog at ryanspoon.com.

When raising capital, a combination of your company’s product, vision, team and execution are what ultimately attract investment. And while the pitch deck is ultimately less important than vision and product, it exists to convey both elements and get investors hungry for more.

Like other investors, I come across hundreds of pitches each month — some in person, others in email; some as PowerPoints, and others as full-fledged business plans. Your goal is to craft a deck that is both:

- crisp: succinct enough that it is easily digestible (in person, email, etc)

- and complete: thorough enough that it conveys the big vision and current traction

I looked back on many of the pitches I reviewed over the last couple years (good and bad) and compared it to public pitch decks of familiar, successful companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and Mint. The output is this guide to creating an early-stage pitch deck. It’s intended for companies seeking seed and series A investments.

There are five core themes followed by a suggested structure:

1. Have a great one-liner
2. Know your audience
3. Keep it to 10-15 slides
4. Beware of the demo
5. Expect the deck to be shared

And remember: it’s the story and the conversation that is important – not the imagery and colors. If you can convey the passion that drives you (and your users / customers!), you will have created a powerful pitch deck.
Fundings_&_Exits  TC  funding  from google
january 2012 by readywater
CallidusCloud Acquires Marketing Automation SaaS LeadFormix For $9 Million Cash
Sales effectiveness cloud SaaS company Callidus Software Inc today announced its acquisition of LeadFormix, a B2B cloud-based lead intelligence SaaS. LeadFormix lets B2B vendors turn anonymous visits to their websites into qualified leads by identifying potential customers and reporting their intent. This solution will join the Callidus multi-tenant SaaS sales performance and effectiveness solutions that help companies hire better sales people, close deals, and incentivize sales performance.

The acquisition will bring LeadFormix’s 200 SaaS customers to Callidus, which already serves AETNA, Nokia, Citrix, and JPMorgan Chase. Callidus will now have over 1100 customers, and will build upon its existing 2.5 million user base.

LeadFormix’s CEO Srihari Kumar says ”Sales and Marketing collaboration is a hot market. LeadFormix’ focus on sales and marketing alignment together with CallidusCloud’s Sales Collaboration portal, Commissions, and Coaching solutions presents a huge opportunity.” With their products combined, Callidus will have serious might in the sales effectiveness space. LeadFormix data on what a potential customer might want to buy will assist CallidusCloud-powered sales people make the right value propositions when negotiating with potential customers.

Just over a year ago, Callidus acquired sales coaching and talent development platform ForceLogix for $3.75 million. The publicly traded Callidus had a strong Q4 2011, bouncing back up to the $6.40 range after falling as low $4.05 in September. Following the LeadFormix acquisition news, the Callidus Software Inc [CALD] stock price rose by 0.94% to reach $6.48 at close.
Enterprise  Fundings_&_Exits  TC  from google
january 2012 by jimparker
CrunchBase Reveals: The Average Successful Startup Raises $25.3 Million, Sells For $196.8 Million
Most investments fail but the few successful ones more than make all the money back — or so startup investors hope. But what sort of returns do these profitable exits bring in? According to a new analysis of all the exits listed in CrunchBase, the average successful company has raised $25.3 million, and sold for $196.8 million, for investor profits of 676% (if you assume the investors own 100% of the company, which they normally don’t).

Meanwhile, IPO-bound companies generated lower percentage returns, but made a lot more money per exit. The average one raised $580.3 million while private, then went public with a market cap of $2.3 billion on its first day of public trading for 303% profit on investment (yes, investors probably aren’t selling all their stock on the first day, this is just one way to measure IPO exits). Mouse over the dots below for more details.

The analysis, done by Belarus-based engineer and TechCrunch reader Alexey Tolkachiov with help from his brother Anton, looked at all CrunchBase-listed companies that had exits over the last five, and are ten years old or younger. So, these stats (which you can also find on their data analysis site, BuzzSparks) are squarely focused on the modern startup world. And that’s not the only qualifier here. As readers should note whenever we cover CrunchBase data, some company information it contains may be incomplete or inaccurate, even if it’s the largest free source for startup information in the world.

Anyway, the analysis has also uncovered some other surprising trends in recent startup returns.

Exit prices fluctuate over the course of a company’s life before it exits — but they don’t trend upwards the older the company is, overall. Peak ages seem to be 1.5 years and 7.5 years in, for whatever reason. This data suggests that selling early could save you some time making money

Less surprisingly, more fundings occurred earlier on in companies’ histories.

And while the number of acquisitions in CrunchBase only seems to go up slightly over the years as a company ages….

….The acquisition price per employee appears to peak when companies are a little less than two years old, or four and a half years old, or a little over five years old. My guess is that a few extra lucrative deals are throwing things off here.
Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  crunchbase  Editor's_Picks  from google
january 2012 by jimparker
Insync (“Dropbox For Google Users”) Gets Major Revamp, Goes Free
File synchronization and sharing platform Insync has been around for over a year now, and today, the eponymous startup has rolled out a totally revamped version of its “Dropbox for Google users”. Insync 2.0, so t speak, is more focused on Google Docs as ever, removed registration and sync limits, streamlined the user experience, and is now free to use.

The main target group here are GDocs users who want Dropbox-like functionality when it comes to handling files (the more Google accounts, the more useful Insync should become). In a nutshell, Insync allows you to automatically sync, update, manage, and share files stored on GDocs on your Mac or Windows desktop (in Finder or Explorer).

For example, nested or individual sharing of files is possible (Dropbox only supports sharing of folders), as is assigning read/write or read only permissions to others. All file formats, including MP3, exe, dmg, MS Office documents, etc. are supported.

Insync doesn’t require a sign-up anymore: just visit the site, sign in with your existing Google account, download and install the client, link the account with your PC or Mac, and you’ll find all files synced on your computer’s desktop. (According to the company, Insync’s now simpler web app is currently in the process of getting another “facelift”, too.)

Insync co-founder and CEO Terence Pua says a key bullet point is price: while his service now went free (existing users can ask for a refund or credit), Dropbox loses the price comparison with Google’s storage offering by 1:8. For example, US$100 a year gets you 50GB at Dropbox but a whopping 400GB at big G (overview). For its own platform, Insync removed syncing limits entirely.

Insnyc, which is based out of Singapore and Manila, just raised a US$800,000 angel round from Joi Ito (via Neoteny Labs), Reid Hoffman, Toivo Annus (co-founder at Skype), and Santosh Jayaram (ex-COO at Twitter).

 
Enterprise  Fundings_&_Exits  TC  insync  from google
december 2011 by jsam
Insync (“Dropbox For Google Users”) Gets Major Revamp, Goes Free
File synchronization and sharing platform Insync has been around for over a year now, and today, the eponymous startup has rolled out a totally revamped version of its “Dropbox for Google users”. Insync 2.0, so t speak, is more focused on Google Docs as ever, removed registration and sync limits, streamlined the user experience, and is now free to use.

The main target group here are GDocs users who want Dropbox-like functionality when it comes to handling files (the more Google accounts, the more useful Insync should become). In a nutshell, Insync allows you to automatically sync, update, manage, and share files stored on GDocs on your Mac or Windows desktop (in Finder or Explorer).

For example, nested or individual sharing of files is possible (Dropbox only supports sharing of folders), as is assigning read/write or read only permissions to others. All file formats, including MP3, exe, dmg, MS Office documents, etc. are supported.

Insync doesn’t require a sign-up anymore: just visit the site, sign in with your existing Google account, download and install the client, link the account with your PC or Mac, and you’ll find all files synced on your computer’s desktop. (According to the company, Insync’s now simpler web app is currently in the process of getting another “facelift”, too.)

Insync co-founder and CEO Terence Pua says a key bullet point is price: while his service now went free (existing users can ask for a refund or credit), Dropbox loses the price comparison with Google’s storage offering by 1:8. For example, US$100 a year gets you 50GB at Dropbox but a whopping 400GB at big G (overview). For its own platform, Insync removed syncing limits entirely.

Insnyc, which is based out of Singapore and Manila, just raised a US$800,000 angel round from Joi Ito (via Neoteny Labs), Reid Hoffman, Toivo Annus (co-founder at Skype), and Santosh Jayaram (ex-COO at Twitter).

 
Enterprise  Fundings_&_Exits  TC  insync  from google
december 2011 by amitry
Mailjet Raises 180,000 Euros, Helps Companies Send And Track Emails
Cloud emailing service provider Mailjet has raised 180,000 euros from Brussels-based eFounders, an earlier backer.

Obviously, that’s not an enormous fundraising round, but Mailjet is an interesting company solving a real problem and challenging more established, venture capital-backed rivals like SendGrid and Mailgun, so let’s take a closer look.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.
Apps  Enterprise  Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  Mailjet  from google
december 2011 by amitry
Open Ocean Invests $1 Million In Developer Of The Zentyal Linux Small Business Server
Zentyal, the Zaragoza, Spain-based maker of the Zentyal Linux small business server, has raised $1 million in Series A funding from freshly financed and Europe-focused venture capital firm Open Ocean Capital.

Zentyal develops a server solution that combines cloud-based services to make network management easy and secure for small and medium-sized businesses. Basically, it’s an open source alternative to Microsoft’s Windows Small Business Server.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.
Enterprise  Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  Open_Ocean  Open_Ocean_Capital  Zentyal  from google
december 2011 by amitry
Video Platform Startup Veenome Raises $500K From Ecosystem VC & Angels
Washington, D.C.-based video indexing and discovery startup Veenome has raised $500, 000 in seed funding from Ecosystem Ventures (investors in Tube Mogul and Facebook), plus private angel investors from Google, Dingman Center Angels, as well as Chegg founder Aayush Phumhra and the founder of WebMetrics Tim Drees.

The company uses proprietary automated video recognition technology to scan video clips for products, brands and objects which can be tagged and indexed.

Once identified and tagged, these items can then be linked to associated content elsewhere, like an e-commerce storefront or a social media site. That means, for example, if you liked the sunglasses Lady Gaga was wearing in her latest video, you could just click on them within the video to purchase.

Veenome says the additional funding will be used to enhance its recognition algorithms and APIs for its early customers. The company is currently running a beta test with participants who include major global publishers and video providers.

At first blush, the new service sounds an awful lot like a video version of ThingLink, the other media-tagging startup that lets you tag photos and images hosted online. However, unlike ThingLink, which requires you tag each item explicitly, the content providers and producers who use Veenome just have to install a plugin on their website to get started. Veenome then crawls their site and overlays the advertising on the videos it finds there. Plugins will be available for the major blog platforms (WordPress, Drupal, etc.) and some custom channels, the company says.

This automatic image scanning and tagging functionality is also how Veenome differentiates itself from other video startups that offer tagging, like Viddler, BlipSnips, Vidtaggr, and others.

Veenome’s business model resembles AdWords, where interested advertisers and marketers will bid on the tags in videos. Content producers and publishers will share the ad revenue with Veenome (70% publisher/25% Veenome/5% Video Creator).

Veenome was founded by CEO Kevin Lenane and CTO David Geller. Lenane was most recently the Director of Mobile Strategy at PointAbout and has product management experience in Web, mobile and location-based services. Geller is the former CEO of Plexstar and of Amazing Media.
Fundings_&_Exits  Startups  TC  Video  Advertising  from google
november 2011 by amitry
Peter Thiel Says He Looks For Platforms Big Amongst Small Businesses, Not Consumers
While plenty of platforms can go viral with consumers, VC idol Peter Thiel said today that he’s impressed by platforms adding legions of small businesses. Speaking at the healthtech conference hosted by electronic medical record platform Practice Fusion, Thiel explained “High paid sales people can get big companies, mass marketing can get consumers, but it’s difficult to get small businesses”. If you see a platform managing to sign lots of small businesses, it could be a winner. Investors take note.

Thiel continued that in addition to being hard to reach, small businesses have historically been resistant to change. To convince them, a product must be “a quantum step better” than their existing solution. He cited Intuit’s QuickBooks and PayPal for eBay sellers as examples of companies able to provide that drastic upgrade, and that subsequently succeeded.

In terms of areas where there’s potential to make those quantum steps, Thiel said “there are tremendous problems to solve in the developed world” specifically in healthtech. He followed that “the single lowest hanging fruit in the US” is in process automation.”The first step in automation is getting everything on a single platform. Practice Fusion has the potential to be the platform company in the electronic record space, and that’s going to be an unbelievably important place to be.”

Thiel is a top investor in Practice Fusion, which now hosts 25 million EMRs, more than any other company in the U.S. It followed his model, growing from 70,000 health care providers in April, to 100,000 in September, to 130,000 now. Part of his due diligence on Practice Fusion? “I talked to my doctor. He said ‘this represents a key improvement.’”
Fundings_&_Exits  TC  from google
november 2011 by willrodgers

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