AI, AR, IPO, HBD
Hello, it’s me. Some quick notes to kick off your Monday.
Self-driving: Thus far Ford and General Motors have taken very different approaches in their transformations from automotive companies to “mobility” companies. GM more or less decided last year that it was behind, quickly spending $1.5 billion to catch up. The company bought Cruise Automation for $1 billion and invested in Lyft. The combination of GM’s manufacturing expertise, Cruise’s self-driving technology, and Lyft’s ride-hail platform is meant to “future-proof” the company from disruption.
At Ford, CEO Mark Fields has been preaching the gospel of innovation, disruption and mobility for years now, but the company has mostly avoided splashy acquisitions and headline-grabbing investments until now. On Friday that changed. The company announced a $1 billion investment in Argo AI, a months-old startup based in Pittsburgh. (Remember when I noted that groups of AI engineers with little more than a hastily written Medium post were banding together and calling themselves companies? This isn’t quite that… but these are the times we live in.)
This is a deal intended to grab headlines. AI! Self-driving! One BILLION dollars! But to be clear: Ford isn’t dropping $1 billion in cash today, it’s investing that over the next five years. That’s true of GM’s $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, too. The actual deal value was closer to $600 million with the rest arriving as earn-outs and incentives.
Ford's deal has an unusual structure. My colleague Jonathan Vanian reports that Argo AI will become a subsidiary of Ford, and Ford will be the majority shareholder of Argo AI, but the company will operate independently and have its own board of directors. Why? Optics:
Fields explained that Argo AI's status as a quasi independent company would let it attract employees with salaries comparable to hot startups, as well as offer stock options. “Let’s face it, there’s a war for talent these days,” said Fields. "By Argo to offer equity participation, we think it’s pretty unique.”
Self-driving cars are still a long way from becoming a reality, so optics and headlines are all we’ve got. Argo AI will build technology for Ford vehicles, but it will also be allowed to partner with other self-driving tech companies. Just not, I suspect, other automakers. Read more.
Layoff Watch: Daqri, an augmented reality startup, has cut around 25% of its staff, according to Business Insider.
Speaking of AR: Tim Cook believes augmented reality will be as big as smartphones. Meanwhile Magic Leap took to Twitter on Friday to clarify that a leaked photo of its augmented reality headset, which showed an elaborate backpack covered in cords and circuit boards, is actually only “an R&D test rig.”
#DeleteUber: Lyft quickly overtook Uber and in the App Store rankings after the online protest against Uber went viral last month. But in the days following, Uber returned to a higher ranking than its rival.
Perhaps people forgave Uber after the company pledged to donate $3 million to a legal defense fund for those affected by President Trump’s executive order and CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from his role on Trump’s economic advisory council. Perhaps people realized Lyft isn’t so innocent, either -- its investors include Trump supporters Peter Thiel and Carl Icahn.
Data company TXN analyzed transactions from a panel of three million credit card holders, finding that Uber’s share of the market fell from 83.9% to 78.5% of the market in the four days after the anti-Uber hashtag went viral. Not exactly a death knell, but enough to have every executive at high-profile consumer-facing companies paying very close attention to the President’s executive orders, and plotting how they’ll react. The New York Times reports that old-line tech companies and B2B businesses are coming under increasing pressure from their employees, too.
The Snappening: If you are preparing a last-minute takeover bid for Snap, your time is running out. The company’s IPO road show could start as soon as Friday, WSJ reports.
“Brilliantly stimulating”: Steve Schwarzman’s 70th birthday bash included trapeze artists, acrobats, camels, Mongolian soldiers, multiple Trump cabinet nominees, Gwen Stefani, the Jersey Boys, and a who’s who of private equity on the “American Riviera.”
THE LATEST FROM FORTUNE...
• Wells Fargo pushes into AI.
• Google is studying how robots will collaborate.
• Chris Rock and … Salesforce?
• Today in reality TV: Trump vs. Mark Cuban.
• Uber. vs. Ola is getting ugly.
• UBS: Buy gold.
The Reckitt Benckiser-Mead Johnson deal’s success depends on China. The AI Threat isn’t Skynet – it’s the middle class. What we’re fighting for. How to disable some of Facebook’s most obnoxious alerts. The increasingly conspiratorial left. Why women keep working in their 60’s and 70’s. Tarullo on Trump (subscription required). Hedge funds betting on Mt. Gox (subscription required). Why Asian tech titans understand Trump. China and the party-corporate complex. Professional candy tasting: Harder than it looks.
• Argo AI, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based artificial intelligence startup that focuses on software for cars, will receive $1 billion in funding over the next five years from Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). Read more at Fortune.
• CrediFi, a New York-based provider of data and analytics services for the commercial real estate industry, raised $13 million in Series B funding. Liberty Interactive’s Liberty Israel Venture Fund led the round, and was joined by 31 Ventures Global Innovation Fund, Battery Ventures, Carmel Ventures, OurCrowd, and Stax.
• SigTuple, a Bengaluru, India-based developer of solutions for automated medical diagnosis based on medical images and other data, raised $5.8 million in Series A funding. Accel Ventures led the round, and was joined by IDG Ventures, Endiya Partners, pi Ventures, VH Capital, and Axilor Partners.
• Nura, a Sydney-based maker of customizable headphones, raised $4.6 million in funding from Blackbird Ventures and angel investors.
• Bloom & Wild, a London flower-delivery startup, raised £3.75 million in funding ($4.7 million), according to Business Insider. Burda Principal Investments led the round, and was joined by Hubert Burda Media’s investment unit, MMC Ventures, and angel investors. Read more.
• Trizic, a San Francisco-based platform that allows clients to interact with their financial firms, raised $3.3 million in funding. Freestyle Capital led the round, and was joined by Broadhaven Capital Partners, and Commerce Ventures.
• Float, a Los Angeles-based provider of mobile-based credit applications, raised $3 million in seed funding. Investors include Camp One Ventures, Funders Club, and 500 Startups.
• Bolstra, a Carmel, Ind.-based customer management platform, raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Allos Ventures and 4G Ventures led the round, with participation from Collina Ventures, Elevate Ventures and private investors.
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Smile Brands, an Irvine, Calif.-based provider of support and general services to dental groups, completed two acquisitions: A+ Dental Care, a North California-based dental group with four locations, and OneSmile Silicon Valley, a group of three dental practices in Mountain View and Los Gatos, Calif. Smile Brands is a Gryphon Investors portfolio company.
• Diversis Capital acquired ServicePower, a McLean, Va.-based provider of mobile workforce management software.
• Associated Asphalt, a Roanoke, Va.-based supplier of liquid asphalt products backed by ArcLight Capital Partners, agreed to acquire Axeon Marketing, a provider of asphalts, polymer modified asphalts and asphalt emulsion. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
• The Riverside Company acquired PracticeMojo, a provider of software for dental practices. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
• TA Associates made a minority investment in Retriever Medical/Dental Payments, a Valhalla, N.Y.-based provider of payment technology and merchant services for healthcare practitioners.
• Ship Supply International, a Miami-based provider of goods and services to the maritime industry, acquired Marine Trading Services, a South Hackensack, N.J.-based regional port logistics business. Ship Supply International is backed by H.I.G. Capital.
• Mercer Advisors, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based national registered investment advisor firm backed by Genstar Capital, acquired Duckworth Wealth Advisors, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based family office offering investment management services.
• FDO Holdings, a Smyrna, Ga.-based hard surface flooring and accessories retailer, filed to raise up to $150 million in an IPO. The company plans to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol FND. BofA Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and UBS Investment Bank serve as the joint bookrunners on the deal.
• J.Jill, a Quincy, Mass.-based women's clothing retailer owned by TowerBrook Capital Partners, filed to raise up to $100 million in an IPO. It plans to list on the NYSE under the symbol JILL. BofA Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Jefferies are the joint bookrunners on the deal. No pricing terms were disclosed.
FIRMS + FUNDS
• Asia Germany Industrial Promotion Capital (AGIC), a Shanghai-based private equity firm, raised $1 billion for its debut fund.
• Bert Kwan has joined Northstar Group as a managing director. Kwan is the ex-managing director and head of Asean private equity at Standard Chartered Private Equity.