TechCrunch+ roundup: Abortion ban’s hiring impact, 3 e-commerce trends, how to pivot a startup

The first two years of the pandemic boosted e-commerce, but Simon Wu, a partner at Cathay Innovation, has identified three factors that are now creating strong headwinds for online retailers:

  1. Increasing economic uncertainty.
  2. iOS social media privacy updates.
  3. “A potential drop in discretionary spending.”

Even if one could set aside a looming recession, the fact that consumers have decided to share less personal information is eating into sales and raising customer acquisition costs.

To tackle these challenges, Wu shares several strategies that can help e-commerce startups refine their brand marketing and “entrench” existing customers.

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For sure, social media is a vehicle for driving sales, but community management is the engine. Wu offers multiple ideas for customer programs that promote loyalty and build traction organically while reducing your dependence on Facebook and other platforms.

“Diversifying customer acquisition channels and organic growth will take time, but the investment is worth it in the long run to build an enduring brand,” he writes.

Thanks very much for reading TC+ this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+

Dear Sophie: How can we transfer a candidate’s H-1B and green card?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My startup needs to hire an AI expert, and our top candidate has a complicated immigration situation.

She’s from India and has been on an H-1B for more than six years. Her current employer applied for an EB-2 green card on her behalf about four years ago through the PERM process.

She’s been waiting for a green card number since she was approved and says it may take several more years before she receives it.

She is asking us to transfer her H-1B and green card to our company. Can we do it? Do we have additional options to retain her?

— Advancing AI

4 negotiation points startup founders must focus on in a down market

4 post it notes on a cork board; talking points for investor negotiations

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

I haven’t tracked this figure nationally, but the amount of venture capital invested in San Francisco-based startups reportedly fell by 65% between May and June 2022.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario where an investor doesn’t enjoy several advantages over a founder. Because VCs have money and prior experience on their side, information is your only equalizer.

To help level the playing field, John Weaver, CEO of angel firm 22 Ventures, shared his top four negotiation tactics for entrepreneurs in a downturn.

“This funding dip is temporary, but the terms you settle on at this moment could shape your company for years to come,” he writes.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Enduring Planet’s $2.1M seed deck

In May, fintech startup Enduring Planet announced that it raised $5 million in debt and equity financing so it can extend revenue-based financing to clean tech startups that bring in at least $25,000 per month.

The company’s founders shared a lightly redacted version of their winning pitch deck with TechCrunch+, which, writes Haje Jan Kamps, includes useful templates for creating effective “problem” and “solution” slides.

Flipping the sales script: How to break biases and diversify sales teams

Adhesive Tape Sticking to Yellow and Gray Colored Background; sales diversity

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For most of his career, my dad was a sales executive at a company that sold business machines internationally. He built and managed internal teams, and I learned a lot about managing people from watching him.

He once replaced a top-performing account manager with a less-experienced salesperson after realizing that the hotshot only exceeded their revenue targets because they steered customers toward expensive systems they didn’t need.

Those customers tended not to renew when their contracts were up.

“Extroversion, charisma and alpha personality traits do not drive sales success,” writes Arwa Kaddoura, CRO of Influx Data. “This is ‘hero selling,’ and it does not scale or produce effective sales teams.”

Roe reversal weighs heavily on emerging tech cities in red states

Image Credits: venimo / Getty Images

The San Francisco Bay Area long ago lost its monopoly on launching disruptive technology: Today, every large American city has a number of startups.

But since the U.S. Supreme Court restricted the right to obtain an abortion, startups based in states that prohibit the procedure are at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring, found reporters Dominic-Madori Davis and Rebecca Szkutak.

“This has put our decision to build the company in Atlanta in a different light,” said Nile founder Khadijah Robinson.

“We’ve already seen in Georgia where decisions that are regressive impact the business community,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to ask women to come to a place where they might very well be risking their lives.”

The art of the pivot: Work closely with investors to improve your odds

Image of a red line threading between red obstacles; pivot

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For her latest TC+ post, we asked veteran investor Marjorie Radlo-Zandi to share her playbook for helping first-time founders steer their companies through a pivot.

Changing direction is a massive undertaking, but she breaks the process down into several steps that will help entrepreneurs get buy-in from investors (and employees).

“There’s no shame in pivoting,” writes Radlo-Zandi. “On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength.”

a16z, Avenir and Google back South African mobile games publisher Carry1st in $20M round

Carry1st, a South African publisher of social games and interactive content across Africa, has raised a $20 million Series A extension led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). This is a16z’s first investment in an Africa-headquartered company (the firm has previously invested in Branch and Zipline, companies with some of its operations in Africa but headquartered in the U.S).

Carry1st also received investments from Avenir and Google; it’s the latter’s second check from its Africa Investment Fund.

A couple of prominent individual investors, including Nas and the founders of Chipper Cash, Sky Mavis and Yield Guild Games, took part.

The round — which is an extension of the Series A Carry1st raised last May from Riot Games, Konvoy Ventures, Raine Ventures and TTV Capital — also saw the same investors double down on their investments in the company. 

Andreessen Horowitz general partners David Haber and Jonathan Lai will join Carry1st’s board as observers. 

Cordel Robbin-Coker, Lucy Hoffman and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu founded Carry1st in 2018. The South Africa-based company, which currently has a team of 37 people across 18 countries, wants to use this additional capital to scale interactive content across Africa.

The company started as a game studio where it conceptualized, developed (from system designs to artwork and engineering), and launched mobile games. Over time, it switched to a hybrid model, adopting a publishing role and handling distribution, marketing and operations.

Carry1st co-founder and chief executive Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch that Carry1st has mainly focused on its publishing arm since it went hybrid.

The three-year-old company has signed publishing deals for seven games from six studios globally, including Tilting Point, publisher of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, which Carry1st recently launched in Africa. Others include CrazyLabs and Sweden’s Raketspel, a studio with over 120 million downloads across its portfolio.

Carry1st said it provides a full-stack publishing solution, handling user acquisition, live operations, community management and monetization for its partners.

“We have a full-suite service that starts with distribution and partnerships. We help them create bespoke marketing materials from short-form advertising videos to statics, and we customize their content to resonate with individuals in different countries,” said Robbin-Coker.

“And then we operate the game and we also monetize. So we’ve built out our monetization engine to allow users to be able to pay for content that they want more easily across Africa.”

It also enhances monetization in the region through its embedded payments solutions, where customers can pay via a range of local payment options, including bank transfers, crypto and mobile money.

L-R: Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu, Lucy Hoffman and Cordel Robbin-Coker

Shortly after closing its Series A round, Carry1st launched its online marketplace for virtual goods. On this marketplace, called Carry1st Shop, users of a Carry1st game can purchase virtual goods such as airtime, mobile data, entertainment vouchers, grocery store vouchers and gaming currency.

Games revenue has increased 90% month-on-month since the second half of last year, the company said. It’s not unexpected considering the astonishing growth of games in terms of quantity and revenue (gaming apps accounted for nearly 70% of all App Store revenue last year) on both Apple and Google stores since the pandemic.

The company’s online marketplace is noticing even faster growth, said Robbin-Coker, especially among users in South Africa and Nigeria.

Carry1st will use this funding to expand its content portfolio, grow its product and engineering teams, and obtain “tens of millions” of new users on the back of this revenue growth in its games and marketplace products.

In a statement, the company said it intends to acquire more users by expanding into game co-development with studios. It is also eyeing the possibility of developing infrastructure to support play-to-earn gaming in Africa, thus venturing into web3.

Cryptocurrency tokens such as SLP, AXS and MANA are used in play-to-earn games. They can be withdrawn to a crypto wallet and traded for another cryptocurrency like bitcoin or ultimately sold for fiat cash to be used in the real world. Carry1st wants to create on- and off-ramps (platforms that convert fiat into crypto and back) and accept crypto at point-of-sale in its marketplace.

“When we think about Carry1st, we want to be the leading consumer internet company in the region. And we think that the best kind of wedge would be able to do that is a combination of gaming and micropayments and online commerce,” the CEO said.

“These industries are being pretty significantly disrupted or augmented with web3 and crypto. And as more gaming content starts to integrate with NFTs and cryptocurrencies, we think there’s a really big opportunity to partner with those studios the same way we partner with free-to-play studios.”

Africa is the next major growth market for gaming globally. The rapid tech adoption from its 1.1 billion millennials and GenZs is a significant driver for this. Carry1st released a report last year with Newzoo showing that the number of games in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by 275% in the next decade. Gaming revenues are projected to see a 728% increase in the same period.

These stats present a much bigger addressable market than what Carry1st envisioned when it launched four years ago. And with the company’s converging at the intersection of gaming, fintech and web3, there is a broader set of opportunities (which we can see in other emerging markets) to go after in Africa. It’s one factor that piqued a16z’s interest in the company.

“We are delighted to be making our first investment in an Africa-headquartered company in Carry1st, a next-generation mobile games and fintech platform,” Haber said in a statement. “We see immense opportunity for the company to mirror outstanding successes we’ve seen in markets like India, China, and Southeast Asia. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with founders Cordel, Lucy, Tino, and the Carry1st team on their mission to build the Garena of Africa.”

Carry1st was seemingly intentional about the investors it brought into this round, especially as it looks to move deep in gaming, web3 and fintech across Africa.

As one of the largest crypto-centric funds, at over $3 billion, a16z brings unmatched expertise in gaming and web3. Google, via its products and phones, will help Carry1st deepen penetration and engagement in Africa. At the same time, Avenir continues to make a big push in African fintech following its big-sized check in Flutterwave.

As for the individual investors, Nas has been fairly prolific with his crypto investments, and Axie Infinity founders own the world’s biggest web3 gaming company.

“It’s a heavyweight group. We’re excited, and we think that their combination will be beneficial for us. Hopefully, it’s a sign that we’re on the right track and this helps drive strategic partnerships for us in the future,” said Robbin-Coker.

Customer advisory boards are a gold mine for startup brand champions

As a 20-year CIO and advisor to multiple startups, I sat on many customer advisory boards (CABs) and saw how they were formed. Some companies have highly functioning CABs, others merely serve as feedback loops. Any startup striving to connect directly with their customers would benefit from establishing one.

Here are some considerations to make certain your customer advisory board is a success.

Why CABs matter

For those unfamiliar, a customer advisory board is a group of customers who come together to share their experiences, insights and advice with an organization. First and foremost, the CAB functions to recognize and include the voice of the customer, an essential part of your company’s journey since customers interact closer than anyone with your product or service.

It’s best to designate early adopters to be on the board — those who took a chance on you and have been on the frontlines as your company evolved — as well as some newer customers.

While establishing this group signals appreciation and respect for your customers, it also provides an opportunity for you to formalize and structure the feedback you are requesting from them. You can seek validation for product ideas or guidance on roadmap development, test out marketing messaging and even tap into market intelligence.

The greatest benefit of a CAB, however, is the creation of champions for your brand. These loyal partners will ultimately offer testimonials, references and referrals. Key to this partnership is a shared sense of playing a small part in building the future of your company.

The greatest benefit of a CAB is the creation of champions for your brand.

Assembling your CAB superteam

The best route to assembling your CAB is to start with a very small group and expand slowly. There’s quite a bit of nuance in the selection of who to include. Do you go after the executive who sponsored you, the one who saw a vision and thought your solution would fit?

Perhaps. But that individual may not be using your product every day, be involved deeply in its operational aspects and/or have their finger on the pulse of the end-user’s experience.

5 steps for building a thriving developer community

Every API or platform that has been successful long term owes a large part of their success to a thriving developer community — including Slack. As the lead of our Developer Relations team and a senior marketing manager, we oversee the Slack Platform Community. The community has grown quickly, so we’re both often asked how to successfully build a similar group.

At Slack, our app ecosystem has expanded alongside the product. The Slack App Directory contains 2,200 apps and over 600,000 custom apps (apps people build just for their teams) are used every week. No technology company creates its ecosystem alone. The growth in ours is part of a wider trend, as the total number of APIs has increased by 30% over the last few years. We’re also currently experiencing a surge in app submissions as more workforces operate entirely at home, and companies need tools to support remote operations. In early April, we saw a 100% increase in app submissions week-over-week.

As more developers try a platform, community support is critical to everyone — the platform company, new developers and those who have been developing for years. If your platform doesn’t have a developer community yet, creating one takes a few purposeful steps. Here are some of the best practices we’ve learned over nearly three decades’ worth of combined work in developer communities.

Start (and continue) listening

You can’t build a community without participating in one first. If you already have people developing on your platform, and they’re open to receiving contact from you, reach out! Get to know the people behind the integrations you’re seeing built.