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Sat, 26 Jan 2019 13:00:50 +0000
Zynga – TechCrunch

It was a tough week. Journalists around the U.S. were hit hard by layoffs, from HuffPost to BuzzFeed News to Verizon Media Group, which owns this very site. The government entered day 35 of the shutdown before President Donald Trump agreed to a short-term deal to reopen it for three weeks. And in the startup world, a once high-flying, venture-subsidized food delivery startup crashed and burned, leaving a cluster of small businesses in its wreckage.

Some good things happened too — we’ll get to those.

  1. Munchery fails to pay its debts

In an email to customers on Monday, Munchery announced it would cease operations, effective immediately. It, however, failed to notify any of its vendors, small businesses in San Francisco that had supplied baked goods to the startup for years. I talked to several of those business owners about what they’re owed and what the sudden disappearance of Munchery means for them.

  1. #Theranos #Content

If you haven’t read John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood,” stop reading this newsletter right now and go get yourself a copy. If you love to read, watch and listen to the Theranos saga as much as I do, you’ll be glad to hear there’s some fresh Theranos content released to the world this week. Called “The Dropout,” a new ABC documentary and an accompanying podcast about Theranos features never-before-aired depositions. Plus, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reviews the Theranos documentary, “The Inventor,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week.

  1. Deal of the week

Confluent, the developer of a streaming data technology that processes massive amounts of information in real time, announced a $125 million Series D round on an enormous $2.5 billion valuation (up 5x from its Series C valuation). The round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital, with participation from other top-tier VCs Index Ventures and Benchmark.

  1. Wag founders ditch dogs for bikes

Jonathan and Joshua Viner, the founders of the SoftBank-backed dog walking startup Wag, launched Wheels this week, an electric bike-share startup with a $37 million funding from Tenaya Capital, Bullpen Capital, Naval Ravikant and others.

  1. Go-Jek makes progress on a $2B round

Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of what it hopes will be a $2 billion round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to put around $920 million toward it, according to TechCrunch’s Southeast Asia reporter Jon Russell. The deal, which we understand could be announced as soon as next week, will value Go-Jek’s business at around $9.5 billion.

  1. Knowledge center

There’s been a lot of chatter around direct listings since Spotify opted to go public via the untraditional route in 2018, but what exactly is a direct listing… We asked a panel of six experts: “What are the implications of direct listing tech IPOs for financial services, regulation, venture capital and capital markets activity?” 

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

  1. Contraceptive deserts

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception. The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. This week, the consumer-focused investor VMG Partners led its $51 million Series B. 

  1. More startup cash
  1. Fundraising activity

Sunil Nagaraj spent years investing in startups at Bessemer Venture Partners, but he was itching to meet with younger companies and strike out on his own. So in the summer of 2017, he did, and now, Nagaraj said he’s closed Ubiquity Ventures’ debut fund with $30 million. March Capital Partners, the Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, raised $300 million for its latest fund. Plus, Zynga founder Mark Pincus is reportedly raising up to $700 million for a new investment fund, called Reinvent Capital, that will focus on publicly traded tech companies in need of strategic restructuring.

  1. Finally, meet the startups in Alchemist’s 20th cohort

A mental health startup, a construction tech business and a fintech company, among others. Take a quick look at the startups that just completed Alchemist’s six-month accelerator program.

  1. Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and I chatted about Munchery’s downfall, The Pill Club’s mission to make birth control more accessible and the VC slowdown in China.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

Tue, 22 Jan 2019 19:42:56 +0000
Startups Weekly: Is Munchery the Fyre Festival of startups?

Zynga founder Mark Pincus is raising up to $700 million for a new investment fund that will focus on publicly traded tech companies in need of strategic restructuring, according to a new report in Axios. It says his new firm is called Reinvent Capital and that Pincus is founding the outfit with hedge fund manager Michael Thompson, who has been steering his own New York-based firm, BHR Capital, for the last nine years.

Reinvest’s plans, says Axios, involve investing in up to 15 internet, software and media companies, adding that the firm will be “size agnostic,” working with small, medium and large-cap companies.

Pincus has been a founder and operator since graduating from Harvard Business School in the early 1990s, co-founding an early internet company called FreeLoader, a web-based push technology service that sold a couple of years later to a now-defunct public company. Pincus went on to co-found SupportSoft, a pioneer in tech support and cloud services, then to create an early social network called Tribe.net, before founding the social gaming company Zynga in the spring of 2007.

The company went public in 2011 at a $7 billion valuation. Seen as vulnerable to competition and to the whims of Facebook, whose rules had already changed in ways that hurt Zynga leading into its IPO, its shares began slipping almost immediately. Today, the market cap of the company — where Pincus remains non-executive chairman after twice stepping into and out of top management roles — is $3.7 billion.

That Pincus would become a full-time investor is less surprising than the stage of companies he will reportedly be targeting. Pincus has long been an active investor, though typically (as far as we know) taking very early stakes in companies. Among his most recent seed-stage bets, for example, is Spatial, a roughly year-old, Emeryville, Calif.-based cross-reality collaboration platform that turns rooms into 3D workspaces and which raised $8 million in seed funding last fall, including from Pincus, along with numerous other individual investors and early-stage venture firms.

Another is Invisible, a New York-based company that says it can help customers outsource their work (professional and personal) to real humans via AI, and which raised $2.6 million in seed funding last fall.

A third recent and slightly later-stage bet centers on Cargo Systems, a 2.5-year-old, New York-based startup that helps ridesharing drivers earn money by bringing the convenience store into their vehicles and that raised $22 million in Series A funding led by Founders Fund back in September.

In fact, Pincus appears to have generated much of his wealth via one very early bet on Facebook. According to tech journalist David Kirkpatrick’s book, “The Facebook Effect,” Pincus, alongside his longtime friend Reid Hoffman, had written an early $40,000 check to the company. When Facebook went public, Pincus reportedly sold roughly one million shares, about a fifth of his stake at the time, for what was expected to be $35 million in pre-tax dollars.

Hoffman, who famously co-founded LinkedIn and is today a partner with the venture firm Greylock Partners, is reportedly advising Reinvent Capital. It’s just the latest effort on which the two are teaming up.

In the summer of 2017, Pincus and Hoffman announced an effort called Win the Future, or WTF, that aimed to be a “new movement and force within the Democratic Party,” Pincus told the outlet Recode at the time. Designed to be equal parts platform and movement, it began life by allowing site visitors to vote on topics like whether or not engineering degrees should be free to all Americans. The site no longer features much at all, other than a descriptor as a “non partisan project lab.”

Hoffman more recently landed in hot water after it was learned that he had indirectly contributed funding to a deceptive social media campaign aimed at helping Democratic candidate Doug Jones win Alabama’s state senate race in 2017. Jones won narrowly; Hoffman said he had no knowledge of the project, did not endorse its tactics, and that he “categorically” disavows the use of misinformation to sway a campaign.

We reached out to Pincus earlier today to learn more. We hope to have more information for you soon.

[ + ]
Wed, 16 Jan 2019 13:00:36 +0000
Report: Zynga founder Mark Pincus is raising up to $700 million for an investment fund

A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.

There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners, including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank, are all involved in the deal.

“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”

The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.

Jam City is coming off a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game, which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue.

Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.

Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like “Family Guy” and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.

Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47 percent of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.

Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games, and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75 percent of the money spent in app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in app stores over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60 percent of the overall gaming market in 2019, as well.

All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.

The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late-December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio Small Giant Games.

[ + ]
Thu, 20 Dec 2018 21:05:43 +0000
Consolidation is coming to gaming, and Jam City raises $145 million to capitalize on it

Social game developer Zynga has entered into an agreement to acquire Small Giant Games, the startup behind the popular mobile game Empires & Puzzles, in a deal expected to total $700 million.

Zynga, which has tumbled since its 2011 Nasdaq initial public offering, will initially acquire 80 percent of Small Giant Games for $560 million, composed of $330 million in cash and $230 million of unregistered Zynga common stock. Zynga will fund part of the transaction with a $200 million credit facility.

“We’ve been impressed by the quality and momentum of Empires & Puzzles as we add another Forever Franchise into Zynga’s portfolio,” Zynga chief executive officer Frank Gibeau said in a statement. “Small Giant has created an innovative game that delivers a unique player experience that engages over the long term.”

The deal is expected to close on January 1. Zynga will purchase the remaining 20 percent of Small Giant over the next three years “at valuations based on specified profitability goals.”

Helsinki-based Small Giant Games had raised $52 million in equity funding from EQT Ventures, Creandum, Spintop Ventures, Profounders and others since it was founded in 2013. The company reported $33 million of revenue for Empires & Puzzles, its most popular game, 10 months after its launch in 2017. Small Giant, which is also behind Alliance Wars and Season 2: Atlantis, says they exceeded 2017’s revenue just four months into 2018.

“Our studio was founded on the idea that small, skillful teams can accomplish giant things, and I am confident that partnering with Zynga is the right next step in our evolution,” Small Giant CEO Timo Soininen said in a statement. “We will now operate as a separate studio within Zynga, maintaining our identity, culture and creative independence. By leveraging the expertise and support from the wider Zynga team, we will amplify the reach of Empires & Puzzles and the new games in our development pipeline.”

Zynga, founded in 2007, is the developer of FarmVille, Zynga Poker, Words with Friends and several other mobile games. The company reported revenues of $248.88 million for the quarter ended September 2018, failing to meet analyst estimates.

Zynga expects to bring in $243 million in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018.

[ + ]
Tue, 30 Oct 2018 12:00:10 +0000
Zynga to acquire Small Giant Games, the maker of Empires & Puzzles, for $700M

HeadSpin has closed a $20 million Series B, valuing the provider of mobile application performance software at $500 million. New investors ICONIQ Capital, Battery Ventures and EQT Ventures participated in the funding round. Existing backers GV, Telstra Ventures, Danhua Capital, Nexus Ventures Partners and NextWorld Capital did not participate.

The company emerged from stealth last year with Manish Lachwani at the helm. Lachwani was the former principal architect of the Amazon Kindle, chief technology officer of mobile gaming company Zynga and co-founder and chief technology officer of Google-acquired Appurify, which helped developers automate testing and optimization of their mobile apps and websites.

He’s been in the application performance management business for a long time; under his leadership, Palo Alto-based HeadSpin has quickly grown into one of the fastest growing, though relatively unknown, startups in Silicon Valley.

“What HeadSpin has been able to achieve in its first three years is remarkable, and it has already attracted dozens of major clients across the mobile ecosystem,” ICONIQ partner Will Griffith said in a statement. “The company is quickly becoming the new standard of record for all mobile ecosystem players going forward. It’s one of the fastest-scaling software companies we’ve seen.”

HeadSpin works with Tinder, DocuSign and some 200 other app providers, allowing the companies to test and monitor their apps in real time and on real devices before, during and after an app is released. The AI-enabled platform gives developers the ability to experience their app just as any regular user would and highlights high-priority issues so companies can quickly resolve customer’s problems at scale.

Founded in 2015, HeadSpin says it expects to double revenue in 2018 but did not disclose any financial metrics.

Chief technology officer Brien Colwell is the other half of the company’s founding team. Colwell is the founder and former CEO of Nextop.io, a Y Combinator graduate and app optimization startup. Colwell and Lachwani are joined by HeadSpin’s head of product Sriram Krishnan, Tinder’s former head of international growth. Krishnan joined HeadSpin in October 2017 after working with HeadSpin’s toolset in his role at the app-based dating company.

“When I signed up for HeadSpin, I found out how phenomenal the product was,” Krishnan told TechCrunch .

“A lot of what we built was predicated on the fact that the mobile ecosystem is still very new,” he added. “If you think about the apps world, it’s only been around 10 years … It’s the Wild West out there when it comes to understanding performance.”

Thu, 27 Sep 2018 14:45:40 +0000
Investors say HeadSpin, valued at $500M, is ‘one of the fastest-scaling software companies’ ever

Cargo, the startup that helps ridesharing drivers earn money by bringing the convenience store into their vehicles, has raised $22 million in a Series A round led by Founders Fund.

Additional investment came from Coatue Management, Aquiline Technology Growth and a number of  high-profile entertainment, gaming and technology executives that include Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Twitch’s former CSO Colin Carrier, media investor Vivi Nevo, former NBA commissioner David Stern, Def Jam Records CEO Paul Rosenberg, Steve Aoki, Maria Shriver and Patrick and Christina Schwarzenegger.

To date, Cargo has raised $30 million in venture funding. As part of this latest round, Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister is joining the board.

Cargo provides qualified ridesharing drivers with free boxes filled with the kinds of goods you might find in a convenience store, including snacks and phone chargers. Riders can use Cargo’s mobile web menu on their smartphones (without downloading an app) to buy what they need. Cargo has previously partnered with Kellogg’s, Starbucks and Mars Wrigley Confectionery — companies looking for ways to market their goods to consumers.

“In just a few years, ridesharing has evolved from a niche service to an indispensable element of our global transportation system,” Banister said in a statement. “Founders Fund is excited to support Cargo in driving the next evolution: a better on-trip experience for riders and new revenue generating opportunities for drivers.” 

The round follows Cargo’s partnership with Uber and an international licensing deal with Grab. The company, which was founded in 2017, has activated more than 12,000 drivers across 10 cities.

Cargo says it will use the capital to scale its business in the U.S. and internationally. It’s also working on new digital services — a development Banister eludes to — that will improve users on-trip experience. The strategic investments from gaming and entertainment executives is designed to help Cargo develop those digital services for riders.

“Our default behavior in an Uber is to shop, play games and listen to music on our phone. Riders have ordered more than two million products and today transact with us every five seconds,” Cargo founder and CEO Jeff Cripe said in a statement. “We brought riders instant commerce, now we’ll help them discover and enjoy games, music, and entertainment on one in-car platform.”

Existing Cargo investors participating in the round include CRCM Ventures, Rosecliff Ventures, Kellogg’s eighteen94 capital, RiverPark Ventures, and former Uber executives including Chief Business Officer Emil Michael, New York City General Manager Josh Mohrer and former West Coast General Manager William Barnes.

[ + ]
Wed, 08 Aug 2018 06:23:42 +0000
In-car commerce startup Cargo raises $22 million led by Founders Fund

Hansel, an India-based startup that enables more agile product development inside companies, has pulled in $4 million as it seeks to expand its business to the U.S..

The startup was founded in 2015 and it operates a real-time mobile app development platform that simplifies the process of product iteration inside companies. That’s to say that once a product is launched there’s a lot of work that is done to develop it, test new ideas and optimize but many companies overlook the process or lump it with the general engineering, which includes initial product development.

Hansel argues that product development and iteration are different, and its wider aim is to enable dedicated ‘product ops’ inside companies that until now never considered the process to be distinct from app development, or perhaps don’t have the budget.

“Product iteration is often neglected as people want to move to the next thing, but that means product building is only half done,” Varun Ramamurthy, CEO of Hansel, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to significantly accelerate product iteration and provide a platform for ‘product ops.'”

“Big firms like Facebook and Uber champion product ops teams inside their business but they have already built the infrastructure and have dedicated specialists. That allows them to move at breakneck on launched product and features, their competitive advantage is speed to market,” he added.

The Hansel ‘Lake’ platform is a single repository that decouples product development from the code itself, allowing teams to create a range of different experiences — iterations — that can be pushed out to different user segments. The company charges users based on end-user numbers, such as monthly active user bases,  but it also includes customized pricing for some premium features, too.

Ramamurthy is formerly of Zynga in the U.S. among other places, and he met his Hansel co-founders Mudit Krishna Mathur and Parminder Singh while the trio were at Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant.

“We got together at Flipkart and saw a huge difference in speed between Facebook, other top firms and the rest of the world,” Ramamurthy recalled. “When it comes to speed of personalization and iterations of product, the rest of the industry had a lot of catch up. We want to help separate iterations and personalization from general engineering… today it is all confused.”

Hansel founders Varun Ramamurthy, Parminder Singh and Mudit Krishna Mathur

The startup has focused on India to date where Ramamurthy said it has large mid-market companies and enterprises as clients, including Uber rival Ola, Paytm and Magicpin. That work has given the team of 23 people a good grounding on what to expect for clients, how to work with them and how to package its service, and now the next phase is to do more business in North America.

Hansel is using the new funding to open an office in the Bay Area, where it has recruited its first two hires to drive business development and sales. Ramamurthy himself plans to spend more time in the U.S. as part of the effort, which will also see a product marketing team hired Stateside. R&D and product development will remain anchored out of Hansel’s India office.

This new round takes Hansel to $5.4 million raised to date. Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India led this Series A with participation from existing backers IDG Ventures India and Endiya Partners.

[ + ]
Wed, 16 May 2018 04:13:15 +0000
India’s Hansel raises $4M to bring its app development platform to the US

Mercari, the eBay-like service that is Japanese first tech startup unicorn, has filed to go public in an IPO that could raise as much as $1.1 billion.

The company is scheduled to list on the Toyko Stock Exchange’s Mothers Market — a board for high-growth companies — on June 19.

The company reached the symbolic $1 billion valuation mark in 2016 when it raised a $75 million Series D. In doing so it became the first Japanese tech startup to become a pre-IPO unicorn. Earlier this year, that valuation jumped to $2 billion following a $47 million investment.

The five-year-old company operates an online ‘flea market’ that lets consumers sell unwanted goods with a focus on mobile.

Japan is its core market, but the company expanded into the U.S. in 2014 and last year it entered Europe, initially via the UK. It boosted its overseas strategy in June 2017 when it hired former Facebook executive John Lagerling as its first chief business officer to guide its global strategy.

The business passed 100 million downloads worldwide at the end of 2017. Mercari said that over 30 million downloads are in the U.S., with more than 60 million in Japan. Speaking earlier this year, CEO Shintaro Yamada — who sold his previous startup Unoh to gaming firm Zynga in 2010 — said success in the U.S. is essential if Mercari is to become an international player.

Reuters reports that Mercari’s forecasted share price of 2,200-2,700 JPY per share would see the company raise up to 117.6 billion JPY ($1.1 billion) at a total market cap of 365.4 billion JPY, $3.3 billion.

It’s common for Japanese startups to go public, but it traditionally tends to happen much earlier than in the U.S or other parts of the world. That’s often times down to investors — who seek to reduce the risk of their money not returning — and a relative lack of capital for startups, but Mercari has held out longer than most and that might set an example for future companies.

For another thing, the return on investment is impressive for many of Mercari’s backers, according to data from 500 Startups partner Yohei Sawayama — who tweeted out JPY estimates for potential returns.

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