Yesterday the Internet mourned the death of Twitter-owned Vine, a web product everyone apparently loved but stopped using years ago. One of the company’s co-founders, Rus Yusupov, tweeted his bitter takeaway: “Don’t sell your company!”
It’s a common trope among startup founders: Unless your company is already at death’s door, selling out is the quickest way to kill it.
Except it’s not that simple with Vine. Former Twitter recruiter Morgan Missen pointed out that Vine hadn’t even launched its product when Twitter acquired it in 2012. What’s more, Vine’s founders left shortly after the deal, and Twitter ran the product for four years. Twitter certainly failed to capitalize on Vine, but the company’s founders may not be blameless, either.
I’m not sharing this because I love a good Twitter spat about Twitter. I’m sharing it because the issue of startups thriving under corporate parents is important as Fortune 500 companies from all industries, not just tech, are increasingly snapping up well-funded startups. Buying innovation isn’t as simple as just writing a check.
I explored that issue in a recent magazine profile of Cruise Automation, the self-driving car startup that General Motors bought for $1 billion (including earn-outs) before even it even launched a product. The relevant part from that story:
It’s become a cliché, when a startup sells to a large corporation, for the founders to spout hopeful phrases about “perfect alignment” and “inspiring commitments.” The company is the founders’ baby, and they’ve barely grasped the reality of letting it go. They take the team out for a big celebratory dinner as the congratulations pile up in their smartphone notifications. They take their first vacation in years. They tell themselves the commitments really are inspiring.
It’s also a startup cliché that within a year, the jig is up. The founders realize that the grinding, slogging, against-all-odds hero’s journey of cold calling and pitching and building and hustling and eating glass and staring into the abyss is finally over. Their metabolism doesn’t adapt well to the politics of slow-moving, risk-averse corporations. Once their life’s work begins to feel like a job, a switch goes off in their brains. Some leave to start their next company. Others “vest in peace.” Whatever innovative thing they built gets lost inside a giant corporate overlord. Startups have a 90% failure rate, according to studies. The failure rate for mergers and acquisitions—at least when it comes to meeting expectations—is just as high.
The founders of Cruise have a lot to prove and are determined to make their deal a success, perhaps moreso than the founders of Vine were. I’ll be following their progress closely…
• New Firm Alert: Thomas F. Wendt and Mark Platshon are raising funds for a new early stage venture firm called Icebreaker Ventures. It’s unique for two reasons that happen to be relevant to today’s column: For one, it’s a “multi-corporate” fund, meaning, rather than traditional LPs, Icebreaker will raise from strategic corporations. And two, it is focused on startups in the “ACES” categories. That’s an auto-industry acronym for autonomous, connected, electric, and shared. Basically, all the car buzzwords except “flying.”
The idea is, the automotive industry is attempting to transform itself into the “mobility” industry, but that’s going to require a lot more interconnectivity, “coop-etition,” and breaking down silos. It’s something the tech industry is pretty accustomed to, but it’s relatively new to the executives in Detroit. What’s more, thus far, the industry has made big bets in a few places, like GM with Cruise, rather than spreading the risk across many bets in many areas. Meanwhile, startups are often wary of corporates. Taking a check from one may prevent them from working with a competitor, or worse, their investor may become a competitor. (Exhibit A: Google’s venture investment in Uber.) Icebreaker is meant to connect the two sides in a mutually beneficial way.
Wendt, who previously co-led Roland Berger’s automotive practice and has spent time at AlixPartners and Audi, tells me he created the multi-corporate structure when he realized that all of the players in the transportation industry – insurance, suppliers, technology, utilities (for electric cars), automakers – would need to work closely together to build the future. “You can’t work in your silos anymore,” he says. His co-founder, Platshon, is a partner at Birchmere Ventures and has been an advisor to BMWi Ventures for several years. Icebreaker Ventures will be based in Palo Alto.
I’m only aware of one other venture firm using a similar multi-corporate strategy, and that’s Autotech Ventures, which raised $45 million towards a $150 million fund earlier this year.
• Moving On: Tom Soto has left TCW Group, where he was Managing Director for Alternatives. He had sold his Los Angeles-based firm, Craton Equity Partners, to TCW in 2013. Soto plans to help out on the Hillary Clinton campaign, and “get back to [his] roots by continuing to develop capital solutions in the sustainability and climate change space.”
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The election is hurting retailers. Mom Guilt. Musk money. The next multi-billion tech merger. The latest Silicon Valley à Detroit move. Flying Ubers. Mylan justice (or lackthereof?). Becoming a global CEO. GE + Baker Hughes. A less radical Bank of Japan. The new science of wellness.
• Unity Biotechnology, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company developing therapeutics to halt or reverse the effects of aging, has raised $116 million in Series B funding. Investors include ARCH Venture Partners, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Partner Fund Management, Venrock, Bezos Expeditions, WuXi PharmaTech, and Mayo Clinic Ventures. www.unitybiotechnology.com
• Cloudian, a San Mateo, Calif.-based cloud storage company, has raised $41 million in Series D funding. Investors include Intel Capital, INCJ, Eight Roads, Goldman Sachs, Lenovo, City National Bank, Epsilon Venture Partners, and DVP Investment. www.cloudian.com
• KNL Networks, an Oulu, Finland-based startup that uses cognitive radio technologies to provide remote internet access, has raised $10 million in Series A funding. Creandum led the round, and was joined by Inventure, Butterfly VEntures, and angel investors, including Juha Hulkko and John Lindfors. www.kyynel.net/
• Onit, a Houston-based company developing enterprise software to automate tasks, has raised $8.25 million in funding. Level Equity Management LLC led the round, and was joined by Austin Ventures and angel investors. www.onit.com/
• eMindful, a Vero Beach, Fla.-based a startup that develops mindfulness programs for employees, has raised $6.85 million in Series B funding. LFE Capital led the round, and was joined by One Earth Capital, Bridge Builders Collaborative, New Ground Ventures and Fairground Capital. www.emindful.com/
• Conekta, a Mexico City-based payments processing company, has raised $6.6 million in Series A funding from VARIV Capital, FEMSA Comercio, Jaguar Ventures, and Conconi Growth Partners. www.conekta.io/en
• MPower, a Washington, D.C.-based peer-to-peer lending platform for student loans, has raised $6 million in Series A funding. Zephyr Peacock India Fund III led the round, and was joined by 1776 Ventures, Goal Structured Solutions, VilCap Investments, DreamIt Ventures, Fresco Capital, and University Ventures. www.mpowerfinancing.com/
• Pure Harvest Smart Farms, an Abu Dhabi-based agricultural technology firm, has raised $1.1 million in funding from Shorooq Investments.
• Note: Yesterday’s Term Sheet incorrectly melded two funding announcements. GoEuro raised $70 million from Silver Lake Kraftwerk and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Meanwhile, Busfor raised $20 million led by Inventure Partners, Baring Vostok, and Elbrus Capital.
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Broadstream Capital Partners, LLC and Corbel Structured Equity Partners, L.P have acquired Antares Audio Technologies, LLC, a California City, Calif.-based audio hardware and software company (and the inventor of auto-tune). Financial terms were not disclosed. www.antarestech.com/index.php
• PNC Riverarch Capital has acquired Five Star Food Service Inc, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based food and beverage service for employers. HarbourVest Partners, Five Points Capital, and Five Star management were co-investors. fivestar-food.com/
• The Trilantic North America-owned Fluid Delivery Solutions LLC has acquired Raging Bull Oilfield Services LLC, a water transfer and equipment rental business. www.trilantic.com
• Serent Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, has made an investment in Apex Payroll Software, a cloud-based payroll and HR technology company. www.apexpayroll.com/
• Meilleurtaux.com, an Equistone Partners Europe-owned mortgage provider, has acquired MerciHenri.com, a French insurance comparison website. www.lecomparateurassurance.com/
• CMG, the publisher of Who What Wear, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and Obsessee, has acquired collegiate media and influencer company CollegeFashionista. CMG is backed by investors including Amazon, Greycroft Partners, BDMI, and Lerer Hippeau Ventures. www.cmginc.com/
• ZTO Express shares fell on its first day of trading, ending up 15% below their IPO price. ZTO Express, a Chinese package delivery company, is backed by private equity firms Warburg Pincus, Hillhouse Capital, and Sequoia Capital.
• Myovant Sciences Inc., (NYSE: MYOV) a drug company focused on women’s health diseases and other endocrine-related disorders, raised $218 million in its initial public offering, the largest biotechnology IPO this year to date. The company priced 14.5 million shares at $15, the high end of its range. myovant.com/
• Quantenna Communications, a Fremont, Calif.-based provider of Wi-Fi video networking for whole-home entertainment, has raised $107 million by offering 6.7 million shares at $16 per share, the high end of its range. Quantenna Communications plans to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol QTNA. www.quantenna.com/
• Acushnet Holdings, a Fairhaven, Mass.-based golf equipment manufacturer, has raised $329 million by offering 19.3 million shares at $17, below its range of $21 to $24. Acushnet Holdings plans to list on the NYSE under the symbol GOLF. www.acushnetholdingscorp.com
• BlackLine, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based accounting software company, raised $146 million by offering 8.6 million shares at $17. The company originally set a price range between $13 and $15 per share, but revised the range to $16 to $17 Thursday morning. BlackLine plans to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol BL. www.blackline.com/
• Premium Brands Holdings Corporation has acquired Belmont Meats Products Limited, an Ottawa-based hamburger manufacturer, from Summer Street Capital Partners. The purchase price was $50 million. Belmont generates approximately $120 million in annual sales. www.belmontmeats.com/
• Samsung Electronics has acquired Tachyon, an enterprise mobile development software developed by Kaprica Security, a College Park, Md.-based cybersecurity software startup. Financial terms were not disclosed. www.tachyonmobility.com/
• PowWow Mobile, a San Francisco-based app mobility company, has acquired the cloud-based enterprise mobility platform StarMobile, which is based in Atlanta. StarMobile has raised more than $6 million in funding from Atlanta Technology Angels, GRA VEnture Fund, LLC, USVP, and Webb Investment Network. starmobileinc.com/
• Cinven has agreed to sell SLV Group, a German lighting company, to the French private equity firm Ardian. www.slvlighting.com/
FIRMS + FUNDS
• MIT announced it will raise $150 million to launch The Engine, an accelerator and venture fund that invests in science and technology startups, according to BostInno. Read more.
• Anthony Maggiore has joined Twin Brook Capital Partners, the middle market direct lending subsidiary of Angelo, Gordon & Co., as an assistant vice president of underwriting. He previously was a senior associate at Madison Capital Funding. www.twincp.com/
• GCA Altium has promoted both Dominic Orsini and Adam Sivner to director, and Mark Smith to assistant director. gcaaltium.com/
• Carmen Chang, a partner at NEA, has been named Chairman and Head, Greater China at the firm. www.nea.com/