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The public markets are staying receptive to tech IPOs, and tech unicorns are trying to recover from pandemic damage, polish up their financials, and head back towards the starting gates. This week, it’s Airbnb and Palantir, finally. Both have been startup icons of the past decade, and literally helped define the term “unicorn.” Now, both are illustrating the challenges that can come from sticking to private funding for years when going public was feasible.
First up, the travel rental company filed confidentially on Wednesday for a public offering, which means we’ll probably get a look at the numbers after Q3 is accounted for, as Alex Wilhelm has been covering. It had eventually decided to go public this year, then the pandemic reshaped its business and forced a down-round and mass layoffs. Now, it says its business has been booming again, and at the expense of some incumbents. The cost-savings plus the fresh growth potential could prove an exciting combo to public markets.
Palantir, meanwhile, appears headed to an IPO soonish judging by the S-1 screenshots that Danny Crichton scooped yesterday. However, the oldest unicorn (17 years) is still losing hundreds of millions every year, it still has a concentrated group of customers for its data and consultancy products, and its commercial business is still relatively smaller than government. The more positive financial news it has to offer? Government revenue lines have been up this year, apparently related to more pandemic demand, and the commercial side had been growing since before then. It is also working to manage its stock price, Danny hears, by doing a direct listing that unusually comes with a lock-up period for employees.
There were many reasons for unicorns to stay private this past decade, including huge checks, exciting growth, often-friendly terms and a general lack of scrutiny. Almost nobody actually thought a pandemic would affect everything like this. And without the pandemic, maybe the easy hindsight would be that the slow pace to IPO was the right one? Instead, each company is having to make decisions that damage its precious pool of talented employees and carefully nurtured culture.
In this scary new decade, founders who aspire to succeed on the scale of Airbnb and Palantir may see public markets as a less risky way to reward shareholders and fund future growth?
Or maybe more startups will be less interested in big equity rounds in the first place? Danny talked to one founder for Extra Crunch who has gone this route successfully with SaaS securitization.
Finally, check out Alex’s overview of what other companies are on the IPO track now over on Extra Crunch. These include: Asana, Qualtrics, ThredUp, Ant Financial, Affirm and once you get past this calendar year, many many more.
Farewell to The Creamery
In another sign of the changing times, a prominent local coffee shop for startups in San Francisco has closed up. Yes, The Creamery is done, sooner or later to be bulldozed for a development that has been years in the works. My former TechCrunch colleague Ryan Lawler came back to write a guest requiem for us. Here’s the start, but I suggest reading to the end to fully experience throat-lumping nostalgia about a certain time you didn’t know you were going to miss:
I don’t remember the first time I went to The Creamery, probably sometime in early 2012.
I don’t remember the last time, either, although undoubtedly it was sometime last year, on a day when I had an extra five minutes to spare before boarding the Caltrain for my morning commute.
And I barely remember any of the other hundreds of times I stopped in to grab a coffee, have lunch with a friend or meet a possible source during my years at TechCrunch, which conveniently had an office just over a block away.
The Creamery was not a place you went for the memories. It was located firmly at the apex of convenience and comfort — which is why, for a certain period of about five years from the early to mid-teens of the third millennium, it was the perfect place for the SF technorati to see and be seen.
It’s also why, after 12 years of operating from one global recession to another, it’s shutting its doors for good….
Five investors talk about the real no-code opportunities
In our latest Extra Crunch investor survey, Alex teamed up with Lucas Matney to find where no-code concepts are actually having a big impact (versus just sounding exciting, which they do already). Here’s Laela Sturdy with CapitalG:
I don’t think it’s over-hyped, but I believe it’s often misunderstood. No code/low code has been around for a long time. Many of us have been using Microsoft Excel as a low-code tool for decades, but the market has caught fire recently due to an increase in applicable use cases and a ton of innovation in the capabilities of these new low-code/no-code platforms, specifically around their ease of use, the level and type of abstractions they can perform and their extensibility/connectivity into other parts of a company’s tech stack. On the demand side, the need for digital transformation is at an all-time high and cannot be met with incumbent tech platforms, especially given the shortage of technical workers. Low-code/no-code tools have stepped in to fill this void by enabling knowledge workers — who are 10x more populous than technical workers — to configure software without having to code. This has the potential to save significant time and money and to enable end-to-end digital experiences inside of enterprises faster….
If you look at large businesses today, IT departments and business units are perpetually out of alignment because IT teams are resource constrained and unable to address core business needs quickly enough. There just isn’t enough IT talent out there to meet demand, and issues like security and maintenance take up most of the IT department’s time. If business users want to create new systems, they have to wait months or in most cases years to see their needs met. No-code changes the equation because it empowers business users to take change into their own hands and to accomplish goals themselves. The rapid state of digital transformation — which has only been expedited by the pandemic — requires more business logic to be encoded into automations and applications. No code is making this transition possible for many enterprises.
Chamath Palihapitiya’s latest act is a tech holding company empire
After being early to the modern SPAC trend, long-time investor and former Facebook executive Palihapitiya has an additional master plan in the works. It is sort of like the SPAC plan but with even fewer other investors to disagree with. Natasha Mascarenhas has the details:
Hustle is Social Capital’s third acquisition in the past three years. In 2018, Social Capital bought a healthcare business that has a repository of data around human physiology. Last year, the firm scooped up a mental health startup that’s centered around software-based treatments and tracks how users progress. Palihapitiya declined to disclose the names of either investment, citing competitive advantages in keeping them out of the press for now.
“I like businesses that build non-obvious data links,” he said, noting that it is unlike AI, machine learning and other futuristic technologies. Although his SPAC returns could fuel acquisitions, he says that his deals have been funded through personal capital.
Palihapitiya’s long-term strategy for Hustle is to create an empire around it. He plans to acquire auxiliary businesses that see $5 to $15 million in ARR, consolidate them, and “now all of a sudden, you can see us getting to hundreds of millions of ARR.”
The Hustle deal closed in about a week. He says that investing out of a permanent balance sheet of his own capital lets him underwrite decisions faster than a traditional venture capital firm, which lines up with the investor’s general anti-VC sentiment. He pointed to Credit Karma and Intuit’s merger that is yet to close. “We’re still waiting for that deal,” Palihapitiya said. “You know, I couldn’t write an $8.8 billion acquisition myself. But I could write a $5 billion one.”
Caryn Marooney explains how to get people caring about your startup
The problem is not new, of course, but Lucas got fresh insights from former Facebook PR leader Caryn Marooney about the right strategies to solve the problem, and put together an explainer for Extra Crunch. Here’s an excerpt:
Getting someone to care first depends on proving your relevance. When founders are forming their messaging to address this, they should ask themselves three questions about their strategy, she recommends:
- Why should anyone care?
- Is there a purchase order existing for this?
- Who loses if you win?
These questions get to the root of what you’re providing, whether there’s a customer and who you’re up against. From there they can also help companies identify how to broaden their relevance in the face of new developments in the market.
“As a startup you start with no relevance,” she says. “So your relevance comes from: you’re a founder people know, you’ve come from a company people care about or you’re in a space that’s already relevant and people want to know about, or you’re about to kill a competitor that people really care about, or you have customers where you sort of get the relevance from the customers.”
Across the week
What happens when the entire podcast crew is a bit tired from, you know, everything, and does its very best? This episode, apparently. A big thanks to Chris Gates for helping us trim the fat and make something good for you.
Before we get into the topics of the week, don’t forget that Equity is not back on YouTube most weeks, so if you wanted to see us do the talking with some fun extra from the production team, you can do so here. More to come once I get my new external camera to work.
- The public markets are afire these days with Apple reaching $2 trillion in market cap, and Tesla’s stock doing all sorts of odd things. In short, stocks have only gone up for a while and that means there’s warm, nigh-stuffy temperatures around assets of all types.
- This is leading to a surge in liquidity, unsurprisingly, as asset managers of all types look to take advantage of the times. So, Asana is prepping a direct listing, Airbnb has filed privately and ThredUp is eyeing an early-2021 IPO. Around the same time as Coinbase, we’d reckon.
- Airbnb banned parties as well, which wound up being the title of the show.
- And SPACs are still happening in rapid-fire fashion. The Equity crew is not super impressed about the whole affair, but I’ll say that with Paul “Fucking” Ryan involved, it’s probably a sign of the top of the market.
- And capping the liquidity chat, Natasha ran us through what Chamath is up to now, and Danny rabbited on about Kabbage.
- Funding rounds! Welcome raised a $1.4 million check that I covered, Labster raised $9 million that Natasha wrote about, Carrot Fertility picked up $24 million that we all thought was pretty smart and our friends at Crunchbase News wrote about PadSplit, which is honestly neat but we ran low on time after spending too much time on SPACs. Check them out here.
Whew! We’re doing a lot over at TechCrunch.com, so, stay tuned and know that if we were a bit frazzled this week it’s because we’re working our backends off to bring you neat things. You will dig ’em.
OK, chat Monday, a show that we’re already planning. Stay cool!
Two weeks left to score early bird savings at TC Sessions: Space 2020
NASA just made history by landing a spacecraft on an asteroid. If that kind of technical achievement carbonates your glass of Tang, join us on December 16-17 for TC Sessions: Space 2020, an event dedicated to early-stage space startups. We’ve launched early-bird pricing, and $125 buys you access to all live sessions, plus video on […]
NASA just made history by landing a spacecraft on an asteroid. If that kind of technical achievement carbonates your glass of Tang, join us on December 16-17 for TC Sessions: Space 2020, an event dedicated to early-stage space startups.
We’ve launched early-bird pricing, and $125 buys you access to all live sessions, plus video on demand. Don’t procrastinate. Buy your pass now before the early-bird reenters Earth’s atmosphere (and prices go up) on November 13 at 11:59 p.m. (PT).
More ways to save: Go further together with early bird group tickets ($100) — bring four team members and get the fifth one free. We also offer discount passes for students ($50) and government, military and non-profits ($95). Looking for out-of-this-world exposure? An Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package ($360) includes four tickets, digital exhibition space, a pitch session to attendees and the ability to generate leads. Bonus savings: Extra Crunch subscribers get a 20 percent discount.
TC Sessions: Space is an unrivaled opportunity to learn from, connect and network with boundary-pushing founders, investors and officials from NASA, the Aerospace Corporation, the U.S. Air Force and leading space companies spanning public, private and defense sectors.
We’ve packed the conference with outstanding presentations, fireside chats and interviews. Plus, you’ll find breakout sessions on specialized topics, audience Q&As with Main Stage speakers and the expo area for partners and early stage startups.
Here’s a taste of the topics but keep an eye on the agenda, because we’ll add more speakers and sessions in the coming weeks.
Asteroid Rocks and Moon Landings
Lisa Callahan, vice president/general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin Space, discusses all aspects of scientific and civil exploration of the solar system — from robots scooping rockets from the surface of galaxy-traveling asteroids, to preparing for the return of humans to the surface of the Moon.
Sourcing Tech for Securing Space
Lt. General Thompson is responsible for fostering an ecosystem of non-traditional space startups and the future of Space Force acquisitions, all to the end goal of protecting the global commons of space. He’ll discuss what the U.S. looks for in startup partnerships and emerging tech, and how it works with these young companies.
Bridging Today and Tomorrow’s Tech
Corporate VC funds are a key source of investment for space startups, in part because they often involve partnerships that help generate revenue, and because they understand the timelines involved. SpaceFund’s Meagan Crawford and Lockheed Martin Ventures’ J. Christopher Moran discuss how these funds fit in with more standard venture to power the ecosystem.
TC Sessions: Space 2020 takes flight on December 16-17, but we’re starting our early bird countdown right now. Great savings disappear in two weeks on November 13 at 11:59 p.m. (PT). Buy your early bird passes today and celebrate your savvy shopping with a tall glass of Tang.
Is your company interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.
Leon Black offers more details on ties to Jeffrey Epstein – Update
Apollo chief executive raised the issue after questions swirled about his relationship with the late financier
Leon Black, the billionaire chief executive of Apollo, on Thursday, 29 October, offered a history of his ties to the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, his most detailed public account yet of a relationship that sparked renewed concern among his firm’s shareholders and fund investors in recent weeks.
Epstein was indicted last year on federal sex-trafficking charges involving underage girls.
On a call to discuss the private equity firm’s third-quarter earnings, Black said he wasn’t eager to speak publicly about his personal business, “but this matter is now affecting Apollo, which my partners and I spent 30 years building, and is also causing deep pain for my family.”
The Apollo chief reiterated that he paid Epstein millions of dollars annually to provide professional services to his family partnership and other family entities, “involving estate planning, tax, structuring of art entities and philanthropic advice” from 2012 to 2017.
He said there was substantial documentation of the work and that it was vetted by law firms, accounting firms and other advisers.
“There has never been an allegation by anyone that I engaged in any wrongdoing, because I did not,” Black said. “And any suggestion of blackmail or any other connection to Epstein’s reprehensible conduct is categorically untrue.”
Black also re-emphasised that Apollo never did business with Epstein, who died by suicide in jail in August 2019, the New York City medical examiner found.
The speech came after the three Apollo board members to who make up the New York firm’s conflict committee last week hired law firm Dechert to conduct an independent review into Black’s business with Epstein. Black said he asked for the review and is cooperating fully.
The moves were prompted by a New York Timesreport on 12 October that Black had paid Epstein at least $50m — more than previously known—in the years after Epstein was convicted in 2008 of soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl.
The article didn’t present any evidence that Black participated in inappropriate activity, but it sparked concern among some of Apollo’s public-pension fund investors and has weighed on the company’s shares.
Apollo’s shares rose briefly after Black’s statement but later fell about 1% in morning trading Thursday, 29 October.
Black, who co-founded Apollo in 1990, said he met Epstein around 1996 when Epstein was advising a number of prominent clients on estate-tax planning. The adviser had been named a trustee of Rockefeller University and served on the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission.
In his network were “luminaries I respected and admired, including several heads of state, heads of prominent families in finance, a US treasury secretary, accomplished business leaders, Nobel laureates, acclaimed academicians and noted philanthropists,” Black said.
The Apollo chief said he wasn’t aware of Epstein’s criminal conduct until it was reported in late 2006 that he was under investigation by state and federal authorities in Florida.
In 2007, Epstein signed a federal nonprosecution agreement, which has since been scrutinised, to resolve that investigation, pleading guilty the following year to two state prostitution counts. He spent much of his 13-month sentence outside prison.
After his release, Epstein went back to his financial-advisory work and once again began associating with prominent people from finance, academia, science, technology and government, Black said. He said he didn’t learn the extent of the further allegations about Epstein’s conduct in 2018 until after he had already stopped working with him.
“Like many other people I respected, I decided to give Epstein a second chance,” he said. “This was a terrible mistake. I wish I could go back in time and change that decision, but I cannot.”
Whether Black’s explanation and the independent investigation will be enough to satisfy the firm’s jittery investors remains to be seen. Working to Apollo’s advantage is the fact that big pension funds, which typically need to invest large sums of money, have relatively few options for where to do so. And Apollo’s funds have continued to offer them strong returns.
Any defections among investors could theoretically threaten the firm’s goal set last year of reaching $600bn in assets over the next five years. For now, growth in the metric is chugging along. The firm said that assets climbed to $433.1bn in the third quarter, up from $413.6bn in the prior quarter and $322.7bn a year earlier.
Apollo chief financial officer Martin Kelly said the firm’s assets were durable even if the independent review of Black has an impact on fundraising. He noted that 60% of Apollo’s assets are in permanent-capital vehicles—pools of money that don’t need to be constantly replenished—and 90% are either in permanent-capital vehicles or funds with five years or longer from inception.
Kelly said the firm expects some of its investors will pause new commitments until the independent review has been completed. But even if Apollo raises no additional third-party capital this year, its fundraising of $18.4bn from third parties through 30 September already falls within its typical annual range of $15bn to $20bn, he said.
“We have incredibly long and durable relationships with our clients,” Apollo co-founder Josh Harris said on the call. “We’re deeply in contact with them, and obviously they are awaiting the results of the review Leon discussed.”
In response to an analyst question about how long the review would take, Apollo said it hoped the process could be completed by the end of the year, but that it was in the hands of the conflict committee.
Apollo also reported lower net income and distributable earnings for the quarter. It posted net income of $272.4m, or $1.11 a share, down from earnings of $363.3m, or $1.63 a share, a year earlier. The decline was primarily driven by a bigger loss attributable to noncontrolling interests.
Fee-related earnings were a bright spot, climbing 30% year-over-year.
Apollo invested a net $20.9bn across its various investment platforms during the quarter, a metric that reflects investments in vehicles beyond traditional drawdown funds.
The firm said it would pay a dividend of 51 cents per share versus 50 cents a share for the third quarter of 2019.
Write to Miriam Gottfried at Miriam.Gottfried@wsj.com
Alternative Investments/ESG: Brunel Allots £1.2B ($1.55B) Sustainable Mandate To Three Managers
The Brunel Pension Partnership has picked Ownership Capital, RBC Global Asset Management, and Nordea Asset Management to manage its new Sustainable Equities Fund of around £1.2 billion ($1.55 billion). Brunel is one of eight pooled Local Government Pension Scheme funds in the U.K.
Alternative Investments/ESG: Brunel Allots £1.2B ($1.55B) Sustainable Mandate To Three Managers
The Brunel Pension Partnership Limited (Brunel) launched a new Sustainable Equities Fund for local authorities’ pension funds.
The Brunel Pension Partnership has picked Ownership Capital, RBC Global Asset Management, and Nordea Asset Management to manage its new Sustainable Equities Fund of around £1.2 billion ($1.55 billion).
Brunel is one of eight pool Local Government Pension Scheme funds in the U.K.
The sub-fund mandate is on behalf of 10 local government pension scheme funds. They wanted a listed equity portfolio with a pronounced skew in favor of ESG considerations. The emphasis would be on companies with positive ESG performance rather than negative exclusions. (Institutional Asset Manager)
Multi-manager sustainable fund
Brunel shortlisted the three managers from 70 expressions of interest.
“The three managers we appointed share a broad investing style and a prioritization of sustainability, yet their approaches are also different enough to provide clients with the diversification they were looking for,” said David Cox, Head of Listed Markets at Brunel.
“We were delighted to find managers who share our understanding of sustainability, embedding it deep into their culture and investment processes,” says David Jenkins, Portfolio Manager for the Sustainable Equities Fund. “This portfolio, therefore, meets our aspiration to go beyond traditional Responsible Investing and ensure that the managers are engaged with the companies and are investing in them for positive reasons, not simply focusing on negative exclusions.”
The portfolio is significantly underweight to the GICS energy sector. It also features an aggregate carbon intensity that is significantly lower than its benchmark, the MSCI All Country World Index.
The selected managers will integrate ESG considerations into their whole investing process. Their focus will not be to manage ESG risks – rather to positively seek out exposure to companies on a sustainable path.
In the process, they would also generate a suitable financial return.
Related Story: Insurers Take a Fancy To ESG & Sustainability ETFs (Invesco)
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