The Age of Unicorns
The February issue of Fortune came out this morning, featuring a package of stories about the phenomenon of VC-backed startups valued at $1 billion or more. It should be easy to spot on the newsstand, since it’s the only magazine with a cover image of a unicorn wearing a hoodie.
Erin Griffith and I wrote the primary story titled “The Age of Unicorns,” which you can read here. Our goal was to explain why there are now more than 80 privately-held companies valued at $1 billion or more, whereas there were none during the dotcom days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some of this might be old hat to Term Sheet readers so, for our purposes, what follows are a few notable nuggets:
Fab was never valued at $1 billion: The design-focused ecommerce site is widely-considered to be one of the original undercorns (i.e., a company valued at $1 billion by VCs that now is worth far less), but CEO Jason Goldberg says that Fab’s valuation never actually topped $875 million. Still a giant sinkhole for investors – just not part of the $1b cohort.
Top VC sees big trouble: “I think you’re going to see a lot of failure in 2015,” says Bill Gurley, the Benchmark partner whose board seats include Uber. His primary concern is that richer and richer funding rounds for privately-held companies come with richer and richer liquidation preferences, thus calcifying the cap table and creating huge problems in the case of down-rounds: “Hiring new employees, particularly senior management, becomes tough because they worry about getting stuck beneath a huge liquidation preference stack. Some of these deals have so many [anti-dilution terms] that the cap table becomes almost concrete. If the valuation goes down significantly, it will sink them.” You can read more on Gurley’s thoughts by going here.
Missing money: Adam Lashinsky has a very deep dive into the trials and tribulations of $3 billion-valued Jawbone, which he refers to as a “16 year-old can’t-miss startup.” Here is an item of particular note: “In early 2014, Jawbone agreed to an investment of $250 million by investors associated with Rizvi Traverse, a low-profile firm that made a bundle investing in Twitter. For reasons neither side will comment on, the full amount of the investment never materialized, forcing [CEO Hosain] Rahman to scramble yet again to raise new funds.”
What say they? We asked a bunch of unicorn CEOs if they felt we were in the midst of a bubble. Here is what they said.
$1 billion or nothing: There was some surprise last October when Slack raised $120 million in new VC funding at a $1 billion pre-money valuation, particularly given that its workplace collaboration tool had only been publicly-available for eight months. But it wasn't happenstance. CEO Stewart Butterfield says that Slack didn't really need the cash, but felt that joining the unicorn club could give it valuable cache with potential customers. If it couldn't get the valuation, it wouldn't have raised the new round. Read more on Slack by going here.
THE BIG DEAL
• Raise.com, an online marketplace for new and used gift cards, has raised $56 million in Series B funding. New Enterprise Associates led the round, and was joined by return backers Bessemer Venture Partners, the Pritzker Organization and Listen Ventures. www.raise.com
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Pluribus Networks, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based maker of hardware-accelerated network virtualization for private and public cloud datacenters, has raised $50 million in Series D funding. Temasek Holdings led the round, and was joined by return backers New Enterprise Associates, Menlo Ventures, Mohr Davidow and AME Cloud Ventures. www.pluribusnetworks.com
• Navabi, a German online boutique for women’s premium plus-size fashion, has raised €25 million in new VC funding. Bauer Venture Partners led the round, and was joined by return backers Index Ventures, Seventure Partners, DuMont Venture and Klaus Wecken. www.navabi.de
• Persado, a New York-based provider of digital marketing persuasion technology, has raised $21 million in Series B funding. StarVest Partners led the round, and was joined by Citi Ventures, American Express Ventures and return backer Bain Capital Ventures. www.persado.com
• Fastback Networks, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of wireless transport solutions, has raised $15 million in Series C funding. Harmony Partners led the round, and was joined by return backers Foundation Capital, Granite Ventures, Juniper Networks and Matrix Partners. www.fastbacknetworks.com
• Calysta Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based provider of sustainable industrial products for food and energy security, has raised $10 million in Series B funding. Walden Riverwood Ventures and Aqua-Spark co-led the round, and were joined by return backer Pangaea Ventures. www.calysta.com
• RealMatch, a New York-based provider of recruitment advertising solutions, has raised $8 million in Series C-1 funding. Edison Partners led the round, and was joined by Orix Ventures and Carmel Ventures. www.realmatch.com
• Clever Age, a French digital and mobile consultancy and design firm, has raised €2.5 million in equity funding from Ardian. http://fr.clever-age.com
• XOR Data Exchange, an Austin, Texas-based permission-based data exchange platform, has raised $1.8 million in VC funding co-led by Chicago Ventures and KGC Capital. http://Xor-exchange.com
• Sandstorm, a decentralized hosting platform for open-source and proprietary web apps, has raised $1.3 million in seed funding led by Quest Venture Partners. www.sandstorm.io
• Keaton Row, a New York-based online social commerce marketplace for “busy women,” has raised an undisclosed amount of Series A funding. Time Inc. led the round, and was joined by seed backers Menlo Ventures, Rho Capital and Grape Arbor Venture. www.keatonrow.com
• SceneDoc Inc., a Toronto-based provider of communication solutions and services for public safety and commercial customers, has raised an undisclosed amount of VC funding from Motorola Solutions Venture Capital. www.scenedoc.com
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Beekman Investment Partners has sponsored a recapitalization of Direct Connect Holdings LLC, a Chantilly, Va.–based provider of credit and debit card payment processing services. www.directconnectps.com
• Centerbridge Partners has agreed to acquire Senvion SE, the German unit of Indian wind-turbine maker Suzlon Group, for €1 billion. Read more.
• Ethos Private Equity has acquired a control stake in South African auto parts retailer AutoZone Ltd. for an undisclosed amount. www.autozone.co.za
• First Reserve has agreed to acquire the Kingfisher Wind power project, a a 298 MW wind power generation project in Oklahoma, from Apex Clean Energy. No financial terms were disclosed. www.firstreserve.com
• Hosen Capital, a Beijing-based private equity firm, has acquired Ruprecht Co., a Mundelein, Ill.-based beef processing company. No financial terms were disclosed. www.ruprechtcompany.com
• Kidd & Co. has sponsored a recapitalization of Nexcore Technology LLC, a Waldwick, N.J.-based contract manufacturer of electro-mechanical capital equipment to the medical device industry. No financial terms were disclosed. www.nexcoretech.com
• KKR has acquired Trainline, a British online train ticket retailer, from sellers like Exponent Private Equity and HarbourVest Partners. No financial terms were disclosed. There had been earlier reports that Trainline was prepping a London IPO. www.thetrainline.com
• PAI Partners, Pamplona Capital Management and Platinum Equity each have made offers to acquire Refresco Gerber, a Dutch soft drink bottler whose shareholders include 3i Group, according to Reuters. The deal could be valued at around €1.5 billion. Read more.
• Thomas H. Lee Partners has agreed to acquire Curo Health Services, a Mooresville, N.C.-based hospice car company, from GTCR. No financial terms were disclosed, but an earlier media report suggested that the deal should be valued at around $700 million (including debt). www.curohealthservices.com
• Red Star Macalline Group, a Chinese furniture and construction materials retailer owned by Warburg Pincus, is prepping a Hong Kong IPO that could raise upwards of $1 billion, according to IFR. Read more.
• Tankships Investment Holdings Inc., a Marshall Islands-based provider of seaborne transportation of crude oil petroleum, has filed for a $100 million IPO. It plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol TNKS, with DNB Markets serving as sole underwriter. The company is a subsidiary of DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS). www.dryships.com
• Bain Capital is planning to sell its remaining 922 million shares in listed Chinese electronics retailer GOME Electrical Appliances Holding Ltd. for upwards of $137 million, according to IFR. www.baincapital.com
• Kinder Morgan Inc. (NYSE: KMI) has agreed to acquire Hiland Partners, an Enid, Okla.-based midstream energy company, from founder Harold Hamm for approximately $3 billion (including the assumption of debt). www.hilandpartners.com
• Pinterest has acquired Kosei, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based provider of personalized recommendation systems for mobile advertisers. No financial terms were disclosed. www.pinterest.com
FIRMS & FUNDS
• Korea Investment Corp. plans to increase its alternative assets allocation from 8% to around 20% by the end of 2015, according to the WSJ. Read more.
• Landmark Partners has closed its fifteenth private equity secondaries fund with $3.25 billion in capital commitments. www.landmarkpartners.com
• Monogram Capital Partners has been formed as a new private equity firm by Jared Stein (ex-Golden Gate Capital) and Oliver Nordlinger (ex-Leonard Green & Partners), according to peHUB. Read more.
MOVING IN, UP, ON & OUT
• Douglas Kelley has joined Capital Southwest Corp. as a senior vice president and managing director. He previously was a managing director in the sponsor finance group of American Capital Ltd. www.capitalsouthwest.com
Douglas Kelley has joined Capital Southwest Corp. as a senior vice president Intervale Capital, an energy-focused private equity firm, has made three promotions: Jason Turowsky to principal, Phil Wilson to vice president and Kendal Reed to senior associate. www.intervalecapital.com
• Summit Partners has made three promotions in its Silicon Valley office: Peter Rottier to managing director, Peter Francis to vice president and Colin Mistele to vice president. www.summitpartners.com
Douglas Kelley has joined Capital Southwest Corp. as a senior vice president Steven Todrys has joined the investment banking unit of Evercore as a senior advisor focused on transactional tax and structuring solutions. He previously was a partner with law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. www.evercore.com
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