Data Sheet—Tuesday, August 16, 2016

By Heather Clancy
August 16, 2016

Last week, when I criticized the questionable “growth hacking” tactics of vegan mayonnaise startup Hampton Creek, I got some pushback from readers: “So what if they were buying their own product in stores to create the appearance of demand? The buybacks represented just 0.12% of the company’s overall sales. The press is just hungry for a scandal.”

Obviously, I disagree. Yes, the press loves a good scandal, but we chase these stories because our readers want to understand whether the rising class of startups with too-good-to-be-true growth are in fact too good to be true.

Startups are rising to prominence faster than ever, and they’re staying private for long past their IPO-by date. For many, private markets are more attractive because publicly disclosing detailed financial information every quarter would hurt the appearance of “momentum” they’ve carefully crafted. Some believe they can more easily control their narrative as a private company, only disclosing business updates to the public when they choose.

The Theranos scandal, or the Zenefits scandal, or on a much smaller scale, the Hampton Creek one are things that likely would have come out in an IPO process (or perhaps been fixed internally beforehand). Instead, they’re coming out via media investigations. Hampton Creek shows you don’t have to be a billion-dollar unicorn to be vulnerable.

The startup community’s response to these unfortunate situations is to write them off as the work of a few “rotten apples.” But I think they are merely the biggest examples of what I believe is happening at lots of much smaller startups that either don’t know any better or that have created a culture of flouting (in startup parlance, “disrupting”) the rules, assuming that the cloak of being a private company would protect them.

With each new scandal, it becomes increasingly clear: Startups can stay private for as long as they want, but it won’t shield them from scrutiny. The sooner they realize this, the better.

Erin Griffith is a senior writer at Fortune. Reach her via email.


BITS & BYTES

Google takes on Skype and FaceTime with video calling. The Internet giant is rolling out Duo, the no-frills app for Android and Apple iOS that it previewed earlier this year. The big differentiator from rival services is end-to-end encryption. Google also has a new messaging service, dubbed Allo, in the works. (Fortune)

Dropbox may go public sooner than you think. The cloud file-sharing and document management startup, last valued at $10 billion, may be considering an initial public offering for 2017. Whether or not it’s ready is a matter that the startup is discussing with advisers. (BloombergFortune)

Nutanix is prepping its IPO road show. The data center software company filed its prospectus way back in December but has been biding its time because of the rocky market conditions. The successful IPOs of two other business software companies, Twilio and Talend, may give it courage. (Bloomberg)

Snapchat is finalizing $100 million acquisition of a mobile search app. The object of its affection is Vurb, a creator of technology for searching across multiple smartphone apps, such as those for dining or entertainment. (Los Angeles Times)

Startup Rubrik raises $61 million from Vinod Khosla’s VC firm. The data management software firm was founded by former Facebook, Google, and Oracle engineers. The Series C round brings its total backing to about $112 million. (Fortune)

Salesforce buys business intelligence startup. It’s paying an undisclosed sum for BeyondCore, which sells data visualization software. The software giant plans to fold the technology into its Analytics Cloud. This is its seventh acquisition this year, at least that we know about. (Business Insider, TechCrunch)

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway buys more Apple stock. The firm increased its stake by almost 55% in the second quarter to 15.23 million shares worth $1.45 billion. It’s noteworthy given Buffett’s personal tendency to avoid the tech sector. (Fortune)


THE DOWNLOAD

Inside Oracle’s acquisition machine. The software giant’s $9.4 billion acquisition of NetSuite late last month has Wall Street bankers frothing at the mouth on the hopes that it is set to go on a spending spree of epic proportions.

But while Oracle is no stranger to making big purchases at opportune times, such as its $10.3 billion acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2004 or its $8.5 billion acquisition of BEA Systems in 2008, the bulk of its deal flow will most likely remain modest in its size and narrow in its scope. It’s part of a long-term master plan to dominate applications for specific industries.



ONE MORE THING

Peter Thiel doesn’t regret role in Gawker’s demise. The billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder funded a lawsuit by Hulk Hogan that helped bankrupt the digital media company. He vows to continue his privacy crusade in an editorial for The New York Times: “Protecting individual dignity online is a long-term project, and it will require many delicate judgments.” (New York Times, Fortune)


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.

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