How 6 top VCs are adapting to the new uncertainty

As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.

But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors who say they are still cutting checks and doing deals. But as Q1 venture data trickles in, it appears that a slowdown in VC activity is gradually forming, something that founders have anecdotally shared with TechCrunch.

To get a better handle on how venture capitalists are approaching today’s market, TechCrunch corresponded with a number of active investors to learn how their investment selection process might be changing in light of COVID-19 and its related disruptions. We wanted to know how their investing cadence in Q1 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019 and the prior-year period. We also asked if their focus had changed, how valuations have shifted and what their take on the LP market is today.

We heard back from Duncan Turner of SOSV, Alex Doll of TenEleven Ventures, Alex Niehenke of Scale Venture Partners, Paul Murphy of Northzone, Sean Park of Anthemis and John Vrionis of Unusual Ventures.

We’ll start with the key themes from their answers and then share each set of responses in detail.

Three key themes for raising in 2020

The VCs who responded haven’t slowed their investing pace — yet.

There’s likely some selection bias at work, but the venture capitalists who were willing to answer our questions were quick to note that they wrote a similar number of checks in Q1 2020 as in both Q4 2019 (the sequentially preceding quarter) and Q1 2019 (the year-ago quarter). Some were even willing to share numbers.

CIOs are dead tired of dumb tech. Pulse has $6.5M to help them help each other

The technology that runs our companies these days is staggering in its complexity. We have moved from a monolith to a microservices world, from boxes to SaaS, and while that has added agility to the enterprise, it has come at the cost of a metric f-ton of services and software platforms required by every team in the building.

CIOs need a place to commiserate — and get better recommendations on what tech works well and what should be placed in the proverbial recycle bin. Meanwhile, salespeople and investors want to hear these decision-makers’ views on emerging products to identify rich veins to invest in.

At the core of Pulse is a community of vetted CIOs and other tech procurers, currently numbering more than 15,000. On top of this core group of users, Pulse has built a series of products to help exploit their collective wisdom, including several new products the company is announcing today.

In addition to new product launches, the company is announcing a $6.5 million Series A round from AV8 Ventures, which is exclusively backed by mega-insurer Allianz Group and launched last year with a debut $170 million fund. This round closed in December according to the company, and brings the startup’s total funding to $10.5 million.

Pulse’s existing product offerings assist product marketers and investment researchers who want to get a “pulse” on the marketplace for tech products by polling CIOs and testing out language around new features and initiatives.

“As an example, Microsoft will come to us and say, ‘Hey, we want to test our messaging and positioning before we sort of blow it up as a campaign. We’d like to do that very quickly through your community.’ And then we facilitate that through a series of questions through surveys and get back the insights to them very quickly,” co-founder and CEO Mayank Mehta explained.

“We think about this as truly becoming a Bloomberg terminal for marketers and investors,” he said. Researchers “can use this as a great way to get a real-time pulse on their buyers and understand how the market is moving, so they can make appropriate investments and ship strategies in real time.”

He said that the company worked with 50 customers last year and delivered some 150 reports. As for the CIOs themselves, “The community is open so long as you are a director level or above,” Mehta said.

In addition to this product for investors and market researchers, the company is also announcing the launch of Product IQ today, which takes the needs of a particular CIO user into account to offer them “personalized” product recommendations for their companies. Those recommendations are surfaced from the continuous data that CIOs are adding into the system through polls and opinion surveys.

“We’re trying to imagine and rethink how decision-making is done for technology executives, especially in a world like this where teams are changing so dramatically,” Mehta said.

Crowdsourced research platforms in the tech industry have become a popular area for VC investment in recent years. StackShare, which raised $5.2 million from e.Ventures, has focused on helping engineers learn from other engineers about the tech they have chosen for their infrastructure. Meanwhile, startups like Wonder and NewtonX, which raised $12 million from Two Sigma Ventures, have focused less on technical solutions and instead answer business questions such as market sizing or competitive landscape.

Pulse was founded in 2017 and is based in San Francisco, and previously raised a seed from True Ventures according to Crunchbase.

Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just on the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data trove in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LIP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra, originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium, today works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations — customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA, and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies, store it securely, and to run analytics and more.

These are all tools that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced. With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Venture debt’s new reality: ‘The last thing we want is management walking away from a company’

Maurice Werdegar is the longtime CEO of venture debt shop Western Technology Investment, one of the most active venture debt lenders in the U.S.

It’s also one of the older firms, having loaned out money for roughly 40 years to startups that needed to achieve certain milestones, reach profitability or wanted additional runway and didn’t necessarily want to raise a new round (especially if that next round might be at a lower valuation).

It’s a needed service and a boon for startups in good times. But when the market turns, debt can prove much trickier.

Indeed, though Werdergar understands founders well — he was once the CEO of a venture-backed restaurant chain that did really well, until they didn’t — he also has to make certain that when the market shifts, things don’t go south for WTI, as well. That can mean long, hard conversations with founders who need to renegotiate their debt payments.

Because COVID-19 is wreaking widespread economic havoc, we talked with Werdegar last week to learn what’s happening in his world and what WTI can do for clients who are now in a bind. Our chat has been edited for length.

TechCrunch: There are other venture debt players out there. How do you differ from your competitors?

Maurice Werdegar: One is we’re not publicly traded; we’re a private BDC [business development company], so we get our money from institutional investors, university endowments, nonprofits, sovereign wealth funds and groups like that. We’re a team that’s comprised primarily of former entrepreneurs; all of us have started and run our own businesses and work closely in the entrepreneurial environments. And we don’t use financial covenants, nor do we use subjective defaults.

Investors tell Indian startups to ‘prepare for the worst’ as Covid-19 uncertainty continues

Just three months after capping what was the best year for Indian startups, having raised a record $14.5 billion in 2019, they are beginning to struggle to raise new capital as prominent investors urge them to “prepare for the worst”, cut spending and warn that it could be challenging to secure additional money for the next few months.

In an open letter to startup founders in India, ten global and local private equity and venture capitalist firms including Accel, Lightspeed, Sequoia Capital, and Matrix Partners cautioned that the current changes to the macro environment could make it difficult for a startup to close their next fundraising deal.

The firms, which included Kalaari Capital, SAIF Partners, and Nexus Venture Partners — some of the prominent names in India to back early-stage startups — asked founders to be prepared to not see their startups’ jump in the coming rounds and have a 12-18 month runway with what they raise.

“Assumptions from bull market financings or even from a few weeks ago do not apply. Many investors will move away from thinking about ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘reasonable growth with a path to profitability.’ Adjust your business plan and messaging accordingly,” they added.

Signs are beginning to emerge that investors are losing appetite to invest in the current scenario.

Indian startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, research firm Tracxn told TechCrunch. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

New Delhi ordered a complete nation-wide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people for three weeks earlier this month in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown, as you can imagine, has severely disrupted businesses of many startups, several founders told TechCrunch.

Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce, said he is prepared for a 90-day slowdown in the business.

Founder of a Bangalore-based startup, which was in advanced stages to raise more than $100 million, said investors have called off the deal for now. He requested anonymity.

Deepinder Goyal, co-founder and chief executive of food delivery firm Zomato, said in January the startup would close a round of up to $600 million by the end of the month. Two months later, Zomato has only raised $150 million.

Many startups are already beginning to cut salaries of their employees and let go of some people to survive an environment that aforementioned VC firms have described as “uncharted territory.”

Travel and hotel booking service Ixigo said it had cut the pay of its top management team by 60% and rest of the employees by up to 30%. MakeMyTrip, the giant in this category, also cut salaries of its top management team.

Beauty products and cosmetics retailer Nykaa on Tuesday suspended operations and informed its partners that it would not be able to pay their dues on time.

Investors cautioned startup founders to not take a “wait and watch” approach and assume that there will be a delay in their “receivables,” customers would likely ask for price cuts for services, and contracts would not close at the last minute.

“Through the lockdown most businesses could see revenues going down to almost zero and even post that the recovery curve may be a ‘U’ shaped one vs a ‘V’ shaped one,” they said.

General Catalyst just announced $2.3 billion in new capital commitments across three funds

General Catalyst, the 20-year-old venture firm that has been bulking up in recent years, announced this morning that it has secured $2.3 billion in capital commitments across three funds: a $600 million early-stage fund, a $1 billion growth fund for companies with $10 million-plus in annual revenue, and a $700 million “endurance fund” to back large companies doing more than $100 million in sales, as reported earlier in Forbes.

It’s an impressive amount for the firm, which last closed a $1.4 billion fund that combined its early- and growth-stage investments — which was itself a huge leap from the $845 million in capital that General Catalyst raised in early 2016 across two funds.

Seemingly, the idea is to compete in more later-stage deals, which could well come down in price as other, non-traditional backers are forced to retrench a bit from the suddenly dicey market.

SoftBank, whose fortunes have shifted, is one example. Mutual fund investors that have flocked to privately held companies will likely startup committing less capital to illiquid startups right now, too, especially given that the IPO window is shut for now.

The firm tells Forbes it’s also looking to back sectors that are more relevant than ever in the era of coronavirus, including healthcare software, technologies for remote education and working.

Indeed, just today, Olive, a Columbus, Oh.-based healthcare startup that’s looking to AI-enabled robotic process automation solution, said it has raised $51 million in funding led by General Catalyst, with participation from its earlier backers. FierceHealthcare has more here.

Still, the firm’s limited partners, including university endowments and pension funds, have also seen their assets hard hit by the sudden economic downturn. It will surely make the kind of commitments they’ve made to General Catalyst and other firms to recently announce giant funds a little trickier to execute.

While there’s no reason to think they won’t fulfill their obligations, during the last major downturn in the startup world back in 2000 (the 2008 recession hit Wall Street much harder than Silicon Valley), some venture firms wound up reducing the size of their funds, in part to ease the financial obligations of their limited partners, in part because they suddenly needed a lot less capital, and in part because they discovered that the more they raised, the harder it would be to produce venture-like returns.

General Catalyst has a number of high-flying bets in its portfolio. Among them: Stripe and Airbnb. It isn’t yet clear how Stripe is faring in the current environment, but Airbnb and its hosts around the world have been struggling as much of the world shelters in place. Though the company originally expected to go public in 2020, those plans seem highly unlikely now.

Dining and takeout startup Allset raises $8.25M as it adapts to life under lockdown

Even though this might seem to be the absolute worst time to try to round up funding for a restaurant-related startup, Allset is announcing that it’s raised an $8.25 million Series B.

It was not, to be clear, an easy process. CEO Stas Matviyenko (who founded the company with COO Anna Polishchuk) admitted that when he set out to fundraise, the goal was actually $12 million. And at one point, it looked like he might even raise more than that — but as he finalized the round in the week before widespread social distancing measures started to take effect around the United States (effectively ending dine-in options in some cities), he said, “A few investors just disappeared.”

Still, Matviyenko said he feels “lucky” to have closed out the round at all. And he pointed to signs that consumers and restaurants are still turning to Allset during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company started out with a focus on delivering a quick dining experience in restaurants, allowing diners to make a reservation, order ahead and then pay directly through the Allset app. Over time, Matviyenko said, the app also began to offer personalized, healthy recommendations at each restaurant.

At the same time, Allset has added takeout options — and most recently, a feature that allows restaurants to offer contactless takeout, akin to the contactless option offered by many restaurant delivery apps. In fact, Allset is waiving its 12 percent commission fee for restaurants offering this option. (It’s also been promoting usage by offering a daily $4 discount for takeout orders.)

Allset

Image Credits: Allset

And while Matviyenko said that orders dropped by around 60 percent as social distancing measures went into place, they’ve apparently they’ve bounced back (by 10 percent as Allset signed up new partners — usually in more residential neighborhoods, away from the office-heavy areas where the companies had previously focused. Matviyenko said the startup has added more than 200 new restaurants in the past couple weeks.

He also emphasized the distinction between AllSet and the various delivery apps. He didn’t rule out adding a delivery option to Allset in the future, but since delivery requires such an investment in logistics, he’d likely to do it by partnering with a company already working in this area. Conversely, he suggested that for most delivery apps, takeout is usually an afterthought (assuming they support it at all), while Allset is trying to offer “the best [takeout] experience” possible.

The new round brings Allset’s total funding to $16.6 million. It was led by led by EBRD (the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Greycroft, SMRK VC Fund and Inovo Venture Partners.

“The Allset team is building a great product and their effective execution yields strong unit economics with sustainable growth,” said EBRD’s Maria Barsuk in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with them in their next phase, as well as proud to support their efforts in serving local businesses and customers during this unprecedented time for the restaurant industry.”

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the world of digital health

In December 2019, Extra Crunch spoke to a group of investors leading the charge in health tech to discuss where they saw the most opportunity in the space leading into 2020.

At the time, respondents highlighted startups in digital therapeutics, telehealth and mental health that were improving medical practitioner efficiency or streamlining the distribution of care, amongst a variety of other digital health markets that were garnering the most attention.

In the months since, the COVID-19 crisis has debilitated national healthcare systems and the global economy. Weaknesses in healthcare systems have become clearer than ever, while startups and capital providers have struggled to operate while wide swaths of the market effectively shut down.

Given significant volatility and the rapid changes seen in the worlds of healthcare, venture and startups broadly, we wanted to understand which inefficiencies might have been brought to light, what new opportunities might exist for founders looking to reduce friction in healthcare systems, how digital health startups have been impacted and how health tech investing as a whole has changed.

We asked several of the VCs who participated in our last digital health survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting digital health startups and broader healthcare systems around the world:

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Our current unprecedented global crisis has put a spotlight on digital health. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen what feels like a decade’s worth of societal and regulatory changes that require digital health companies to step up and embrace new challenges and opportunities.

China’s Pinduoduo raises $1.1 billion in private share placement

Chinese e-commerce firm Pinduoduo said on Tuesday it had raised $1.1 billion in a private share placement that will enable its further expansion and allow it to capture “additional opportunities” during the times of uncertainty.

The Nasdaq-listed firm said some of its long-term investors financed the deal. The investors were granted newly issued Class A ordinary shares of Pinduoduo representing approximately 2.8% of the company’s total outstanding shares.

The capital raise comes weeks after the Shanghai-based company said it was bracing for losses due to the coronavirus outbreak. The firm’s fourth-quarter revenue growth fell short of expectations.

Pinduoduo, which competes with giant Alibaba, has grown rapidly in recent years after gamifying the shopping experience that allows customers to team up to buy anything from smartphones to fruits.

But the firm’s marketing — promotions and discount coupons — has also widened its losses. In Q4 2019, Pinduoduo reported a loss of about $250 million on revenue of $1.5 billion.

“Pinduoduo surpassed 1 trillion yuan in annual gross merchandise value (GMV) in less than five years, and we are confident that we will see robust growth beyond our current 585 million user base,” said David Liu, VP of Strategy at Pinduoduo, said in a statement.

“The extra funding gives us the strategic flexibility to capture opportunities to further benefit our users, as we bring interactive experiences, such as our new live-streaming features, and wider variety of value-for-money products to them,” he added.

As with e-commerce firms in other parts of the world, Pinduoduo in recent months has focused on fulfilling low-cost protective gear and everyday essentials over everything else.

It looks like Brandon Middaugh is heading up the $1B Microsoft climate fund

Earlier this year, Microsoft made waves in the corporate community by coming out with one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging strategies to reduce carbon emissions from the company’s operations.

Part of that plan was a $1 billion fund that would invest in climate change mitigation technologies — specifically focused on decarbonization. At the time, details were scarce, but it looks like the strategy is becoming a little more clear, with details beginning to emerge about who will be running the show.

According to sources — and a LinkedIn profile search — it appears that Brandon Middaugh is taking point on the investment fund.

Middaugh has been at Microsoft for more than four years and worked as one of the architects of the company’s climate strategy during her tenure at the company. In her previous role as part of the company’s Cloud Energy and Sustainability team, Middaugh led the distributed energy strategy and was a part of the partnership Microsoft initiated with the East Coast regional transmission organization, the PJM — which manages the power grid for a large swath of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.

It appears that Middaugh is going to be taking point on the deployment of that $1 billion fund Microsoft announced in January, according to people who have discussed the company’s investments.

At the January event, Microsoft committed to going “carbon negative” by 2030 and said that it would remove by 2050 the equivalent of all the carbon it had emitted into the atmosphere since its founding in 1975. Those commitments are far more aggressive than any made by any other corporation in any industry.

Part of the plan involves expanding the carbon fee the company has imposed internally on its direct emission across its supply and value chains. The $1 billion fund is part of that effort to reduce emissions from suppliers and customers by financing projects and technologies that can reduce emissions with new generation or efficiency technologies, or capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Equity and debt investments have to meet four criteria, including: the ability to drive meaningful decarbonization, climate resilience or other sustainability-related goals; have additional market impacts for future climate solutions; can address Microsoft’s own climate debt; and have implications for the unequal distribution of climate impacts.

Late last year, Amazon committed that it would move to 100% renewable energy powering its operations by 2030 and that it would achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been developing renewable energy projects under its moonshot division and has long been an investor in climate mitigation technologies, including the use of renewables to power its operations.

All of these efforts will need to be met by additional work from corporations and financial institutions across every industry if the world is to reduce the most dire effects of dramatic climate change. Already forest fires, flooding and other climate-related catastrophes have led financial investors and insurers to push for better mitigation strategies and to bring climate impacts front and center within corporate strategies.

Microsoft had not replied to a request for comment by the time of publication.