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Rippling’s Parker Conrad on the company's new round, new SF lease, and also, its newest critic | TechCrunch

Last week, TechCrunch broke the news that the workforce management software outfit Rippling was on the cusp of closing a new, $200 million round of funding at a hefty $13.4 billion valuation led by Coatue. We also reported that the round featured a separate, $670 million secondary component meant to give some of the company’s investors a bigger bite of the company, while letting Rippling’s employees – some of whom joined at the outset in 2016 – cash out some of their shares.

Rippling declined to comment at the time, but in an interview Friday afternoon, founder Parker Conrad confirmed our information, adding that the secondary component is actually a $590 million tender, with $200 million available for employees and $390 million available for seed and other investors. 

The round, Rippling’s Series F, is also almost entirely an inside round. Coatue is an earlier investor in Rippling, along with other backers in this round that have been investing all along, including Founders Fund and Greenoaks. The only new member on the cap table is Dragoneer, a growth-stage investment firm in San Francisco.

Of course, we were interested in much more than Rippling’s new fundraise, so while we had Conrad on the phone, we talked turnover. We discussed the company’s new office lease in San Francisco (right now, it’s the second-biggest lease to be signed this year in the city). Conrad also shared why Rippling is relatively “free” of AI. Later this week, you can hear that full conversation in podcast form; for now, excerpts of that conversation follow, edited for length.

So why raise this money?

Honestly, it started out as just an employee tender. We wanted to find a way to get some liquidity for early employees, so we went to market, looking really to do about $200 million for employees that wanted to sell some stock. [But] we got a lot of investor interest, so we expanded it first to include a small amount of primary [capital] – mostly as a way to get more ownership for investors that were looking to buy more – and then beyond that, we ended up expanding into seed investors as well.

What does this secondary sale say about your plans to eventually go public? An IPO is a little bit in the distance?

I definitely think it’s a bit in the distance, but it’s not like a way of delaying [anything]. If anything, it’s probably nice if there are people who want to buy a house or [want more cash] because life happens. It’s great to relieve some of that pressure before you go public so that you don’t have tons of people selling as soon as they can in the public markets. 

Is this the first time employees have been able to sell some shares? 

It’s not. We did something in 2021. But it was smaller and the company was smaller, and it was a long time ago.

Do you worry about employees leaving after cashing out?

One of the things that we talked about internally when we launched it was, we said, ‘Look, the first rule of an employee tender is that you don’t talk about the tender internally or publicly.’ We don’t want to see anyone spiking the football, or something like that. And the second rule of the employee tender is, ‘see the first rule.’ This is a very private, personal thing, and I’m thrilled for everyone [participating]; if this makes a difference in [their] life, that’s great. But it’s not the destination. The game’s not over. 

How do you feel about turnover more generally? Some people don’t like to see it; other managers think it’s for the best. Elon Musk seems to be a fan, given the rate at which he turns over his executive team at Tesla.

The executive team at Rippling has been remarkably stable for a long time. A lot of the people on the team are people who I originally hired for those roles. Some of them are people I have long work histories with, even before this company. And certainly I always like to keep people. I mean, every once in a while, there’s an early Rippling employee who leaves the company, and I find it always just emotionally really sad when that happens, even if the company is going to be fine and they want to do something else or, you know, in some cases just kind of hang out. On a personal level, that’s always very difficult for me.

You newly leased 123,000 square feet in San Francisco for local employees, who are now back three days a week. How did you settle on that policy, and do you worry about retention or hiring?

We just think there’s an enormous amount of value of people being in the office together. We were never a company that was going remote. When we went remote temporarily during the pandemic, we said, this is for three weeks, and then we’re going back to the office. Of course, it was unfortunately a lot longer than that, but we were back in the office as soon as we could be. I think it’s possible for some companies to be fully remote, but it’s sort of like playing the game on hard mode. I think it’s a lot easier if people can get together in person; you get a lot done.

In the meantime, workforce management software is super crowded. You’re going up against a company that you famously co-founded and ran, Zenefits. There’s Paycor, Workday, Gusto, to name a few . . . 

The weird thing is that Rippling is not actually a [human capital management] HCM company. Everyone who has been building business software believes that the way to build the  best business software is to build these extremely narrow, focused deep products. And I think it’s completely wrong. I think the way you build the best business software is to build a really broad product suite of deeply integrated and seamlessly interoperable products. Yes, we have a very strong HR and payroll suite, but we also have an IT and security suite; we have a spend management suite, where we do things like corporate cards and bill pay and expense reimbursements. Actually, we’re using the primary capital that we raised in this round to fund the R&D efforts for a new, fourth cloud that we intend to launch in a completely different area. 

The classic example of a company that builds software in this way is Microsoft. Microsoft is the like the OG of compound software businesses. 

Speaking of Microsoft, what is your “AI strategy”? 

We are a company that is relatively free of any AI products right now. There’s some stuff that we’re working on. But I am always very skeptical of things that are, like, super trendy in Silicon Valley. So I can tell you what [our AI strategy] is not. I’m super skeptical of these chatbots. I don’t think anyone wants to chat with their HR software. 

I have to ask about a tweet related to our story about your new round. I saw [Benchmark general partner] Bill Gurley chimed in that “Anti-focus ain’t cheap.” I wasn’t sure if that was laudatory or a dig. Do you know?

I assume given that it came from Bill that it’s a dig. And he’s not wrong that taking this opposite approach is expensive, particularly on the R&D side. If you look at Rippling financially, the thing that really stands out is how we spend on R&D. If you compare us to other HCM competitors – because you talked about the crowded HCM space –  they spend an average of 10% of their revenue on R&D. Next year, Rippling is going to spend as much on R&D as [three rival companies] combined, and we have a much lower revenue footprint than the three. It’s definitely true that there’s a huge upfront investment phase in building what we’re building that obviously over time, as a percent of revenue, should come down. So he’s not wrong, but it’s a very explicit part of our strategy. What Bill might not totally understand is the benefit that you get from building software in this way; much higher upfront R&D costs [later result in] much higher sales and marketing efficiency. 

Has Bill ever done business with you?

No, I’ve never met Bill. He’s sort of a constant, low-grade antagonist, but I’ve never actually met him. 

I know he doesn’t get along very well with Marc Andreessen. 

Then Bill and I have that in common. Maybe we should meet up and grab a beer over that particular thing. 

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Cendana, Kline Hill have a fresh $105M to buy stakes in seed VC funds from LPs looking to sell | TechCrunch

If you ask investors to name the biggest challenge for venture capital today, you’ll likely get a near-unanimous answer: lack of liquidity.

Despite investing in startups or VC funds that increased in value, due to the dearth of IPOs, those bets are not generating much, if any, cash for their backers. That’s the drawback of private investment versus the public market. Shares of companies in private companies like startups cannot be sold at will. The companies must authorize their existing investors to sell their shares to approved others, known as secondary sales.

Cash-hungry venture investors, whether VCs themselves or their limited partners, are increasingly looking to sell their illiquid positions to secondary buyers. 

Now, add in that many early-stage startups were overvalued during the fundraising frenzy that peaked in 2021 and that those shares may now be worth less. That presents a new and unique opportunity to buy stakes in seed-stage VC funds, as well as shares in startups, at relative bargains.

Today, Cendana Capital, a fund of funds that invests in dozens of seed-stage venture firms, and partner Kline Hill Partners, a firm focused on buying small previously owned private assets, are announcing a new $105 million Kline Hill Cendana Partners fund, which is well above the $75 million target they initially hoped to raise.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been hearing from our portfolio funds, ‘We have a family office that wants to sell their $2 million commitment. Would you be interested in buying it?’” said Michael Kim, founder and managing director of Cendana Capital.

Kim felt the opportunity to increase his firm’s ownership in venture funds and promising startups at a substantial discount was too good to pass up. But, since investing in secondary assets requires expertise that none of Cendana’s investors had, he decided to join forces with Kline Hill.

Raising money for this fund was easy, Kim said. Cendana’s limited partners were asking Kim to take advantage of this buyer’s market.

“We simply passed the hat around to our existing LPs at Kline Hill and Cendana,” said Kim.

Buying stakes in seed funds

Michael Kim, founder and managing director of Cendana Capital. Image Credits: Michael Kim

What sets Kline Hill/Cendana’s investing vehicle apart is that it’s buying secondary interest in seed-stage firms and individual companies from seed funds. Most existing secondary players are too large to go after this opportunity, according to Kim.

It’s hard not to see the symbiosis between the two firms. Cendana’s relationships with its portfolio funds, including Lerer Hippeau, Forerunner Ventures and Bowery Capital, are helping it take the lead on sourcing secondary deals. It then passes these opportunities to Kline Hill, which values, underwrites and negotiates the transaction price.

While Kline Hill has been investing in secondary VC since the firm’s founding in 2015, Chris Bull, a managing director at the firm, said that partnering with Cendana brings the type of information that’s extremely valuable to the investment process.

“What’s most exciting for us is we’re able to get transactions done where I think either of us individually would have had difficulty getting across the line,” Bull said.

The current plan is to invest the whole $105 million fund through the end of 2024. The two firms are giving this joint venture a try, and if it goes well, they’ll raise a successor fund next year.

The two firms are not alone in noticing a large opportunity in scooping up previously owned venture stakes. Traditional secondary investors, such as Lexington Partners and Blackstone, recently raised their largest secondary funds ever. While these vehicles target all types of private assets, investors say a portion of that capital is bound to go to venture. In addition, Industry Ventures has picked up a nearly $1.5 billion fund dedicated to secondhand VC. 

But billion-dollar funds like these “typically focus on much, much larger, more multistage firms,” Kim said. Applying such big finance tactics to the seed stage is far less prevalent. 

Kline Hill/Cendana is on to something. With VC-backed companies tending to stay private longer than their investors’ 10-year fund cycles, the need for liquidity will likely only continue to grow.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Exclusive: A16z promotes Jennifer Li to help lead the new $1.25B Infrastructure fund

Powerhouse venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is promoting Jennifer Li to general partner after six years at the firm. She’s being tapped to help invest the new $1.25 billion Infrastructure fund managed by longtime a16z general partner Martin Casado.

The Infrastructure fund is part of the fresh $7.2 billion that the Silicon Valley VC giant just raised. Li has been an investing partner on the Infrastructure team for a while, which means she was already writing checks and taking board seats. But her promotion puts her in rarified air: making her the 27th general partner at the firm, and she’s hit this career milestone while in her early 30s.

While that may sound like a lot of GPs, a16z currently has over 500 employees. Plus she’s one of only four GPs on the Infrastructure team. The others are Anjney Midha who joined the firm last summer; Zane Lackey, who joined two years ago; and Casado.

“Promoting Jennifer to general partner means that much more autonomy in deal making and, as importantly, that much more influence on the team’s culture, investment philosophy, and operating model,” Casado told TechCrunch over email.

In Casado’s blog post announcing her promotion, he also mentioned that she and he were the two people largely responsible for building the infrastructure investing team. He described her as “a low ego, incredibly reliable and generous partner to work with. No detail escapes her notice, and no challenge too daunting for her to tackle. As Ben Horowitz has said many times, ‘She embodies the a16z culture.’”

In her time at a16z, Li helped the firm find data connectivity startup Fivetran, valued at $5.6 billion in 2021; and data analytics developer tool startup dbt, which hit a $4.2 billion valuation in 2022 (both of those deals were led by Casado). She led the firm’s investments in developer-focused video platform Mux, a unicorn as of 2021; database startup Motherduck, valued at $400 million earlier this year; and AI voice startup Eleven Labs, a unicorn as of January, where she serves on the board.

Prior to joining a16z in 2018, she led product at AI startup Solvvy, acquired by Zoom in 2022; led self-service and analytics products at AppDynamics, acquired by Cisco for $3.7 billion; and was a Kleiner Perkins Product Fellow in 2016.

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Robotic Automations

Cambium is building a recycled wood supply chain | TechCrunch

The global demand for wood could grow by 54% between 2010 and 2050, according to a study by the World Resources Institute. While some building materials like steel get consistently recycled back into the supply chain, wood does not. Cambium hopes to fix that.

Cambium looks to build the supply chain that keeps wood from being wasted by connecting those with already-been-used wood to the businesses and folks that need it. Cambium co-founder and CEO Ben Christensen recently told TechCrunch’s Found podcast that only 5% to 10% of wood gets reused currently, with most ending up in landfills or turned into mulch.

“We’re building a better value chain where you can use local material, you can use salvaged material, and all of that is connected through our technology,” Christensen said. “So that’s what we do is we deliver carbon smart wood, locally salvaged wood, tracked on our technology, to large buyers to build buildings, to build furniture, to use any sort of thing that you use wood for. And we do that in a really efficient and cost-competitive way.”

Demand for more sustainable wood has been growing in recent years, Christensen said, but before Cambium there wasn’t a good system to find the recycled wood. Cambium fixes that and more, he said. The company goes to businesses with recycled wood to sell and shows them the demand for their products while also selling its software that helps with inventory management and point of sale to these suppliers.

Cambium also helps buyers get better visibility into where their wood is coming from and can further reduce their carbon footprint by selecting a local vendor, Christensen said.

“People like really, really want to buy this material, we’ve been really overwhelmed with demand there and that helps us get sourcing and volume onto the platform in order to go and meet that demand,” Christensen said.

Christensen added that the company has benefited from a generational shift too as construction companies and people in wood-related trades retire and the next generation of folks in those fields look to adopt technology and be more environmentally friendly.

Cambium was founded in 2019 and is based in Washington, D.C. The startup has raised more than $8.5 million in funding from VCs including The Alumni Fund, Gaingels and MaC Venture Capital, among others.

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Metalab goes from quietly building the internet to investing in it | TechCrunch

Nearly 20 years after finding success in helping startups build products, Canadian interface design firm Metalab has launched Metalab Ventures to invest in many of those product-led startups.

Serial entrepreneur and investor Andrew Wilkinson started Metalab in 2006, a company that went on to support product innovations by companies including Slack, Coinbase, Uber and Tumblr.

Metalab often works with startups, acting a bit like co-founders, to help them get a product off the ground. Then Metalab “lets them loose” to grow, CEO Luke Des Cotes told TechCrunch. Metalab had a record year in 2023 and was involved in the development of 40 products that went into the market last year.

Corporate venture capital has found its stride over the last decade as a stable source of capital or when startups have something Big Tech wants.

With Metalab Ventures, the venture arm will play the role of a long-term value investor, essentially “putting our money where our mouth is,” Des Cotes said.

“We want to go on a journey with them for the next 10 to 12 years,” he said. “We’ve been asked over and over again by founders when we will invest, and sometimes we have, but it’s been very ad hoc in the past. Today, we make that a formal process.”

Metalab Ventures has raised $15 million in capital commitments for its first fund to invest in product-led startups where strategy, design and technology are the key differentiators.

“Product-led” is how a product will be the differentiator for the business, Des Cotes said. Most businesses have some major component of success riding on how well a product is created and how well it’s connecting to the user. Metalab Ventures seeks out founders who “believe in the power of design as a tool to be able to connect with users in a way that’s different and special,” he said.

Des Cotes and David Tapp, head of partnerships at Metalab, are the general partners at Metalab Ventures and will invest in 25 to 35 startups at the pre-seed, seed and Series A stages. So far, the firm made a handful of unannounced investments, Des Cotes said.

The limited partnership makeup of the new fund includes institutional, funds to fund, angel investors and founders of companies with whom Metalab has previously worked. Metalab is also an LP in the fund.

The company performs diligence on thousands of founders each year to determine who it will help, and that same process was shifted to Metalab Ventures in the way it evaluates investments, Des Cotes said.

When determining who to invest in, the process includes getting to know the founders and if the firm can add value. Metalab often taps into its 160-person workforce for design, technology, product and research leadership.

“We’ve already operated very much like a venture fund,” Des Cotes said. “Now we are working through that process to understand what’s the product, what’s the opportunity, what’s the value that can be created here. When we believe in this business, we think of human capital as being our scarce resource that we can then deploy into those businesses.”

Have a juicy tip or lead about happenings in the venture world? Send tips to Christine Hall at [email protected] or via this Signal link. Anonymity requests will be respected. 

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Mahbod Moghadam, who rose to fame as the co-founder of Genius, has died | TechCrunch

Mahbod Moghadam, the controversial, never-boring co-founder of Genius and Everipedia, as well as an angel investor, passed away last month at age 41 owing to “complications from a recurring brain tumor,” according to a post attributed to his family and published on Genius.

The startup world appears to have caught wind of his passing just this weekend, with numerous tributes springing up on the X platform, including by former TechCrunch writer-turned-investor Josh Constine, who once interviewed Moghadam and his founders at Genius when the company was still in its relative infancy and called Rap Genius. Wrote Constine: “RIP to Mahbod. A complex, edgy, and at times problematic guy, but also genuinely funny, brilliant, and always unique.”

Moghadam was most recently living in Los Angeles, where, after spending roughly 20 months with the venture firm Mucker Capital as an entrepreneur in residence, he was focused in part on figuring out schemes to help creators get paid more directly for their work.

One of those recent efforts was HellaDoge, a short-lived social media platform that offered to pay its users dogecoin for contributing dogecoin-related content for the benefit of the rest of the platform’s users. The ostensible idea was that, unlike a Facebook or Twitter, which generate ad revenue for themselves based on the engagement of their users, HellaDoge’s users would benefit directly from their participation.

In an interview 11 months ago with the online media outfit According 2 Hip Hop, Moghadam talked about a similar idea for a company called Communistagram where, he said, “you’d connect your Venmo and [as a creator] just get paid for using it,” rather than rely on Spotify or YouTube to receive payment.

Moghadam’s interest in how people can and should get paid dates back to 2009. After graduating from Yale and then Stanford Law School, he became a lawyer just as the economy was crashing in 2008. In that same interview from last year, Moghadam said he was “just, like, tiptoeing” around the offices of the law firm where he landed his first job and praying he wouldn’t be fired.

When the inevitable happened — Moghadam said the law firm “ended up basically just giving us some money to go away” — he used the money to co-found Rap Genius with two of his Yale friends: Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman.

Originally, the site invited users to annotate and explain hip-hop lyrics, eventually becoming so well-known that rappers gravitated to the platform to explain their own lyrics — as well as to correct users who’d mangled them — including the rapper Nas, who became an advisor and one of its first investors.

By the time that Rap Genius graced the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in May 2013, the three had landed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and were on the verge of rebranding Rap Genius as Genius and expanding its remit.

But Moghadam also began attracting attention to the annotation company for belligerent behavior, both public and private. In November 2013, he attributed his poor conduct to a fetal benign brain tumor that was removed in emergency surgery. He kept pushing the envelope, however. Indeed, in 2014, after posting provocative comments as annotations after a murderer’s manifesto was posted to Genius’s platform, Moghadam resigned at the urging of Lehman, who was the company’s CEO.

Moghadam later co-founded Everipedia, a decentralized, blockchain-based encyclopedia that in 2022 was renamed

As it was still trying to find its footing, he joined Mucker Capital.

Looking back, Moghadam expressed dismay that Genius contributors weren’t paid for helping to build out the platform. “The only reason Genius can get by with doing slave labor for lyrics is because people love music so much,” he said during last year’s interview with According 2 Hip Hop.

Either way, the company fell short of its ambitions, failing to expand far beyond its core audience of rap fans and unsuccessfully suing Google for copying and posting its lyrics at the top of search results to capture users who might otherwise have visited Genius.

In 2021, it sold for $80 million — less than half of what it raised from venture investors — to a holding company.

While Moghadam never reached the same heights professionally as during the early days of Genius, he remained highly regarded by many of Genius’s most ardent fans, appearing on a variety of podcasts where enthusiastic hosts fawned over him.

Moghadam also never forgave Lehman and was still trying to sue the company as of last year in an attempt to “squeeze some juice from this rock,” he said in that interview last year.

Slamming the new owners of Genius, Moghadam had added that “at least the [original] CEO [Lehman] straight up built Genius with his own two hands. He’s a nerd. That’s the only good thing about him.”

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Consumer tech investing is still hot for Maven Ventures, securing $60M for Fund IV | TechCrunch

When prolific venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Hippeau announced in early 2024 they were pivoting away from consumer tech, it sparked a social media debate about whether there are still opportunities.

Maven Ventures’ Jim Scheinman and Sara Deshpande say “yes.” And to prove it, they raised $60 million in capital commitments for a fourth fund to back “massive consumer tech trends.”

They say “massive” because this is the firm that seeded companies like videoconferencing giant Zoom and autonomous vehicle maker Cruise. Scheinman, founding managing partner, is even credited for coming up with the Zoom name.

As to the notion that no one wants to invest in consumer tech anymore, Scheinman told TechCrunch “it’s not true.” Like other sectors, this one also has cycles where consumers either think something is “the coolest thing ever” or “the worst.”

Consumer tech is in the trough of the cycle, Scheinman said. As such, he believes this is the best time to be an investor. “It’s less noisy, and there is a lot less competition as less people try to invest,” he said.

When he started investing, the internet was the first major platform. Then came mobile, then cloud and AWS. Scheinman thought web3 was going to be the next thing, but that was eclipsed by artificial intelligence. Jumping in, Maven will be there helping to build the next game-changing health AI company or robotics AI consumer business, he said.

“This is absolutely the time when multi-billion-dollar companies are born, from now to over the next three to four years,” Scheinman said. “There are dozens of companies that you’ve never heard of that will be household names with the likes of Zoom, Cruise and Facebook. This is the time to invest in it.”

Any new portfolio business will be in good company. Overall, 16% of Maven’s portfolio companies have reached a minimum $500 million exit or valuation, which is 10x industry average, Scheinman and Deshpande, general partner, told TechCrunch.

Scheinman started the firm in 2013 and brought in Deshpande soon after to focus on consumer AI and personalized medicine. They brought in investment partner Robert Ravanshenas in 2015, and again in 2020 after a stint in a startup operating role, to focus on fintech, longevity and consumer AI.

Together the trio remains committed to seeding similar consumer tech trends, including applications of AI, personalized healthcare, climate and sustainability, family technology and fintech.

Fund IV brings total assets under management to $200 million and more than 50 total investments. The firm makes six to eight investments each year, writing average check sizes between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Maven invested in seven new companies so far from the new fund, including Medeloop, a platform to help improve clinical research; Lutra AI, a startup that creates AI workflows from natural language; and AI agent company Multion.

A big theme for this new fund is investing in founders that have unique insight around how this technology can improve life for consumers. In addition, “figuring how, with this new emergence and improvement in AI technology, do we envision that we can actually improve life for consumers all the way to the consumer,” Deshpande said.

“Consumer trends will never go away,” Deshpande said. “Consumers are the spending engine of a healthy economy. We are all consumers. For us, it’s really this knack of being able to see what is changing consumer behavior or a new technology that can massively impact people’s lives. Founders come to us with an amazing vision worth fighting for, and that’s the type of stuff we’re spending a lot of time on right now.”

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EarliTec Diagnostics raises $21.5M to help diagnose autism earlier | TechCrunch

One in 36 children in the U.S. has autism, according to the CDC. Research shows that the earlier a child gets diagnosed, the better their developmental outcome will be. EarliTec Diagnostics just raised fresh capital to expand its system that helps clinicians diagnose children as young as 16 months old.

The Atlanta-based startup’s FDA-authorized approach involves a child watching short videos and social interactions on a screen for 12 minutes while the device, using AI, tracks the child’s eye movements. According to EarliTec, children with autism won’t focus on the video the same way that kids without autism will.

The startup raised a $21.5 million Series B round co-led by Nexus NeuroTech Ventures, a venture firm focused on backing companies creating solutions for brain disorders, and Venture Investors, a Midwestern venture fund that invests in healthcare companies. The startup’s tech is currently used by eight clinicians across six states in the U.S.

EarliTec Diagnostics CEO Tom Ressemann told TechCrunch that traditional autism diagnoses involve three- or four-hour assessments that can have lengthy waitlists. EarliTec’s 12-minute test is designed to help clinicians get to a diagnosis faster, which helps them work with more children.

“You have to be able to work into their current workflow,” Ressemann said. “So with a test like ours that is flexible where you access it, it could be at the child’s home, it could be at a clinic or a school, it’s a tablet, we can work into most workflows. A quicker diagnosis is better for the child and the parent.”

The company plans to use the money to continue to expand its commercialization, Ressemann said. EarliTec currently works with children aged 16 months to 30 months and plans to funnel some of its fresh capital into research that could help the company expand the age group the system can diagnose. It also hopes the capital can help improve assessment and treatment options.

Ressemann, who was CEO at several other medical device startups prior to EarliTec, including Amphora Medical and Entellus Medical, said this fundraise was the most challenging and yet the most rewarding. He said despite the prevalence of autism in the U.S., it’s still a hard area in which to fundraise because only certain investors are interested in the space. But that’s starting to change.

The reason this deal intrigued me so much was that there seems to be growing momentum and interest in the autism-focused healthcare space from VCs; prior to 2021, this was more rare.

This week, the Autism Impact Fund closed a $60 million fund, 20% higher than its $50 million target. The Autism Impact Fund isn’t the only firm investing in the space, either. Divergent Ventures raised a $10 million fund in 2021 that focuses on early-stage companies across the neurodiversity space. EarliTec backer Nexus NeuroTech Ventures was just launched in 2023.

Several startups in the space have raised notable rounds, too. Cortica, which does diagnoses and treatment plans, has raised more than $175 million in venture funding from firms such as CVS Health Ventures and .406 Ventures. Forta, family-focused autism therapy, has raised more than $55 million from backers, including Insight Partners and Alumni Fund. Opya, a digital therapy platform for autism, has raised more than $19 million from backers, including SoftBank’s Open Opportunity Fund.

Ressemann said the breadth of diagnosis and assessment tools and treatments has changed rapidly since he and his wife went through the diagnosis and treatment process years ago with their now 27-year-old son.

While it’s been great to see startups and venture backing treatments and tools to support children with autism, you always wonder why investors have gotten interested in backing solutions now — or why they weren’t before. I asked Ressemann what he thought, and he said that awareness of the condition’s prevalence has made a big difference.

“Just a few years ago it was considered to be one in a 1,000 children. It’s now one in 36,” Ressemann said. “That’s awareness.”

This makes a lot of sense. My mind had always considered the goal of awareness campaigns to be that more people without the condition understood its prevalence, but I hadn’t considered that more information out there would also help lead to more diagnoses, giving a more accurate picture of just how many people this actually affects. Having those numbers in hand helps investors see the total addressable market and opportunity.

“There is an attraction to the size and the magnitude of the problem,” Ressemann said regarding recent VC interest. “Where there is a large unmet need there is often interest to get into that.”

Hopefully investors stay interested because more money going into startups like this that can help children with developmental delays and disorders, and that can make VCs money, seems like a great strategy to make a return while directly improving people’s lives.

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Robotic Automations

“IVP’s Eric Liaw talks Klarna controversy, succession plans, and fundraising in today’s market

When IVP recently announced the closing of its 18th fund, I called Eric Liaw, a longtime general partner with the growth-stage firm, to ask a few questions. For starters, wringing $1.6 billion in capital commitments from its investors right now would seem a lot more challenging than garnering commitments during the frothier days of 2021, when IVP announced a $1.8 billion vehicle.

I also wondered about succession at IVP, whose many bets include Figma and Robinhood, and whose founder and earlier investors still loom large at the firm — both figuratively and literally. A recent Fortune story noted that pictures of firm founder Reid Dennis remain scattered “in all sorts of places throughout IVP’s San Francisco office.” Meanwhile, pictures of Todd Chaffee, Norm Fogelsong and Sandy Miller — former general partners who are now “advisory partners” — are mixed in with the firm’s general partners on the firm’s website, which, visually at least, makes less room for the current generation.

Not last, I wanted to talk with Liaw about Klarna, a portfolio company that made headlines last month when a behind-the-scenes disagreement over who should sit on its board spilled into public view. Below are parts of our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the longer conversation as a podcast here.

Congratulations on your new fund. Now you can relax for a couple of months! Was the fundraising process any more or less difficult this time given the market?

It’s really been a choppy period throughout. If you really rewind the clock, back in 2018 when we raised our 16th fund, it was a “normal” environment. We raised a slightly bigger one in 2021, which was not a normal environment. One thing we’re glad we didn’t do was raise an excessive amount of capital relative to our strategy, and then deploy it all very quickly, which other folks in our industry did. So [we’ve been] pretty consistent.

Did you take any money from Saudi Arabia? Doing so has become more acceptable, more widespread. I’m wondering if [Public Investment Fund] is a new or existing LP. 

We don’t typically comment on our LP base, but we don’t have capital from that region.

Speaking of regions, you were in the Bay Area for years. You have two degrees from Stanford. You’re now in London. When and why did you make that move?

We moved about eight months ago. I’ve actually been in the Bay Area since I was 18, when I came to Stanford for undergrad. That’s more years ago than I care to admit at this point. But for us, expansion to Europe was an organic extension of a strategy we’ve been pursuing. We made our first investment in Europe back in 2006, in Helsinki, Finland, in a company called MySQL that was acquired subsequently by Sun [Microsystems] for a billion dollars when that was not run-of-the-mill. Then, in 2013, we invested in Supercell, which is also based in Finland. In 2014, we became an investor in Klarna. And [at this point], our European portfolio today is about 20 companies or so; it’s about 20% of our active portfolio, spread over 10 different countries. We felt like putting some feet on the ground was the right move.

There has been a lot of drama around Klarna. What did you make of The Information’s reports about [former Sequoia investor] Michael Moritz versus Matt Miller, the Sequoia partner who was more recently representing the firm and has since been replaced by another Sequoia partner, Andrew Reed?

We’re smaller investors in Klarna. We aren’t active in the board discussions. We’re excited about their business performance. In many ways, they’ve had the worst of both worlds. They file publicly. They’re subject to a lot of scrutiny. Everyone sees their numbers, but they don’t have the currency [i.e., that a publicly traded company enjoys]. I think [CEO and co-founder] Sebastian [Siemiatkowski] is now much more open about the fact that they’ll be a public entity at some point in the not-too-distant future, which we’re excited about. The reporting, I guess if accurate, I can’t get behind the motivations. I don’t know exactly what happened. I’m just glad that he put it behind them and can focus on the business.

You and I have talked about different countries and some of their respective strengths. We’ve talked about consumer startups. It brings to mind the social network BeReal in France, which is reportedly looking for Series C funding right now or else it might sell. Has IVP kicked the tires on that company?

We’ve researched them and spoken to them in the past and we aren’t currently an investor, so I don’t have a lot of visibility into what their current strategy is. I think social is hard; the prize is massive, but the path to get there is pretty hard. I do think every few years, companies are able to establish a foothold even with the strength of Facebook-slash-Meta. Snap continues to have a strong pull; we invested in Snap pretty early on. Discord has carved out some space in the market for themselves. Obviously, TikTok has done something pretty transformational around the world. So the prize is big but it’s hard to get there. That’s part of the challenge of the fund, investing in consumer apps, which we’ve done, [figuring out] which of these rocket ships has enough fuel to break through the atmosphere and which will come back down to earth.

Regarding your new fund, that Fortune story noted that the firm isn’t named after founder Reid Dennis as proof that it was built to outlive him. Yet it also noted there are pictures of Dennis everywhere, and others of the firm’s past partners, and now advisers, are very prominently featured on IVP’s site. IVP talks about making room for younger partners; I do wonder if that’s actually happening. 

I would say without question, it’s happening. We have a strong culture and tradition of providing people in their careers the opportunity to move up in the organization to the highest echelons of the general partnership. I’m fortunate to be an example of that. Many of my partners are, as well. It’s not exclusively the path at the firm, but it’s a real opportunity that people have.

We don’t have a managing partner and we don’t have a CEO. We’ve had people enter the firm, serve the firm and our LPs, and also as they get to a different point in their lives and careers, take a step back and move on to different things, which by definition does create more room and responsibility for people who are younger and now are reaching that prime age in their careers to help carry the institution forward.

Can I ask: do those advisers still receive carry?

You can ask, but I don’t want to get into economics or things along that dimension. So I’ll quietly decline [that question]. But we do value their inputs and advice and their contributions to the firm over many years.

There’s obviously a valuation reset going on for every company seemingly that’s not a large language model company, which is a lot of companies. I’d guess that gives you easier access to top companies, but also hurts some of your existing portfolio companies. How is the firm navigating through it all?

I think in terms of companies that are raising money, the ones that are most promising will always have a choice, and there will always be competition for those rounds and thus those rounds and the valuations associated with them will always feel expensive. I don’t think anyone has ever reached a great venture outcome feeling like, “Man, I got a steal on that deal.” You always feel slightly uncomfortable. But the belief in what the company can become offsets that feeling of discomfort. That’s part of the fun of the job.

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Against games industry doldrums, Bitkraft Ventures raises $275M to back studios and platforms | TechCrunch

Bitkraft Ventures — a games investor based out of Denver, Colorado, but with European founders — is raising its third fund, coming in at $275 million. The fund will make seed and Series A investments in gaming studios and platforms to support game production. The moves come at a time when games investments have actually declined 72% year on year, according to a recent PitchBook report.

Founded by games industry veteran Jens Hilgers, Bitkraft has over 130 companies in its portfolio, and more than $1 billion in assets under management.

The VC is an investor in the Frost Giant studio, which Hilgers seemed particularly excited about.

“Frost Giant has set out to build a successor in the real-time strategy space. The team had previously been involved in building StarCraft and they’re now launching a game called Stormgate. It’s highly anticipated and has had great early reviews. That is a good example of the type of  games company we invest in.”

Other investments include Anzu, an in-game ad platform; Carry1st, a mobile gaming platform focused on Africa; InWorld, a social platform; Karate Combat, a martial arts league; and Immutable, the creator of the Gods Unchained crypto-based game.

He said the firm’s LP base is a mix of family offices and institutional funds, and confirmed a major global sportswear player as an LP but was not at liberty to release the name.

“The strategy we pursued with the second fund is about 30 to 35 companies, average ticket size about $4 million, 50% of the initial capital and 50% follow-on. That strategy has looked successful so far. We’re rated top decile in the latest Cambridge Associates ranking, and we’re happy with that performance,” he added.

Perhaps the best way of positioning Bitkraft is to compare it to Play Ventures in Singapore, which has raised $222.9 million across four funds but also invests across several types of games platforms.

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