5 Qs WITH A DEALMAKER
Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron invited a contingent of 40 U.S.-based venture capitalists and limited partners to come talk tech.
Investors from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures and Battery Ventures attended the two-day roadshow in Paris that took place at Station F, the Vision Institute, iBionext and the Elysée Palace.
Chelsea Stoner, a general partner at Battery Ventures, was part of the group that went on the tour.
“They organized this trip to show how forward-thinking the Macron administration is,” she told Term Sheet. “It’s clear they want to turn France into more of an innovation capital. It’s far easier to do business there than some of us thought.”
Stoner is a growth investor who has risen through the ranks at Battery to become the first (and only) female partner in the firm’s 35-year-history. She often pursues software-healthcare companies in markets that a lot of other investors overlook. Her portfolio includes Avalara, which raised $180 million in an IPO earlier this year, and Brightree, Marketo, ClearCare, and Curve Dental.
In a wide-ranging conversation, I caught up with Stoner to get her impression of the French tech ecosystem as well as to learn more about some of her biggest deals and gain insight into her investment strategy. Read the full Q&A here.
TERM SHEET: What was the general feeling among the VCs on the tour about investing more capital in European tech companies?
STONER: There have been good companies to come out of France, Germany, and the U.K, but being able to cross a border and become a large compelling company across Europe is difficult to do. A lot of companies tend to be pretty conservative — they get to the $50 million level and sell rather than wait for the really big outcome. Valley investors, on the other hand, are willing to take a lot of risk. Are we going to take the time to go over there if we think the founders are willing to sell early? I don’t know — that’s not really that interesting to us. So that’s still a big question. The sense in France though is that they recognize this, so they talked to us a lot about the changing attitudes around risk-taking.
You went on the trip during the “yellow vest protests” in Paris. What are some of the risks associated with deploying capital in the region?
STONER: It’s hard to say. Macron and his team have made it much more compelling to do business in France — both for entrepreneurs starting a business as well as for investors doing deals. The protests and unrest happening there obviously present a big cloud over this. I think Macron has this very strong message, and I think he’s doing everything he should be doing to make it right. Europe needs a leader in technology right now, and it would be a real shame if he doesn’t execute on his plans. But right now is a tough time to be in his role for sure.
You backed Brightree, which was acquired for $800 million. At the time, the CEO said that Battery helped boost revenues from $8 million to over $100 million. What are some things you did to transform the company into an attractive acquisition target?
STONER: First and foremost, our management teams operate the businesses, and we do everything we can to be helpful. We’re not giving them playbooks and telling them what to do, but we are very helpful when it comes to acquisitions. The case with Brightree was that they had never done an acquisition before. Once you have the market map of all the companies in and around that space, you ask yourself: “Are there certain technologies to go acquire and sell to your customers?”
They were seeing pretty dramatic organic growth just from selling their core cloud product to businesses that really needed a cloud product. That was tremendous growth. Then we ended up doing 6 acquisitions onto the platform, and we took something that they were selling for $5,000 a year up to, at the end, $50,000 a year. You get a customer who’s paying so much more because you’ve unlocked all the value you can offer them through different packages.
And then it really comes down to the execution of the acquisition. We do deals for a living, so we should be able to be on the ground helping them execute acquisitions. In Brightree’s example, I was helping them develop relationships with the acquisition targets, create models, and negotiate the docs.
What’s going on in the cloud space right now that you think Term Sheet readers should know about?
STONER: The biggest story continues to be the shift to the cloud from the legacy space. We think it’s still in the second or third inning, and there’s still so much older software out there and new cloud companies coming up all the time. What gets me so excited is how that applies to various verticals. People can now develop software much more cheaply and be able to go after smaller markets, so it makes sense now.
Look at the dentist space, for example. We just invested in Curve Dental, which is based up in Calgary. Something like 5% of dentists use cloud software today — that’s pretty incredible. So there are still these pockets of different markets out there that could really benefit from the adoption of cloud.
Companies have access to a lot more capital these days. As a growth investor, how do you see the venture capital landscape evolving as players like SoftBank enter the market?
STONER: It’s a very interesting strategy. I tend to like that SoftBank is going after the category leaders, just like we are. They know who those are by the time that they’re investing and putting a ton of money behind them. They’re making very big bets obviously in each of the leaders in the respective markets, and it’s a very good strategy. Does it make our jobs tougher as growth investors? Yeah. It just means we need to be there before SoftBank is. We need to find the companies earlier.
…SPEAKING OF SOFTBANK: Fair, a car-as-a-service provider, raised $385 million in Series B funding. SoftBank led the round, and was joined by investors including Exponential Ventures, Munich Re Venture’s ERGO Fund, G Squared, and CreditEase.
The company will use the capital to scale its consumer platform and Uber partnership globally. Fair, which launched in August 2017, offers car subscriptions as an alternative to the traditional financing model and allows users to shop pre-owned cars with all-in monthly payments.
Through a partnership with Uber, potential rideshare drivers can access Fair in the Uber app to pick a car, drive it, and walk away whenever they want. It provides an alternative to a loan or lease for Uber drivers who don’t want to go through the traditional car-buying process.
Now, the one-year-old company has caught the attention of SoftBank. Fair’s product offering complements SoftBank’s rideshare thesis well — especially when it comes to providing potential Uber drivers with a vehicle when they might not otherwise qualify for an auto loan. Of course, SoftBank is an investor in Uber as well as other ride-hailing companies.
Fair CEO Scott Painter told Term Sheet in an email that he plans to collaborate with other companies in the SoftBank ecosystem. When asked why he chose to partner with SoftBank, Painter said, “It’s simple: There’s no entity with SoftBank’s financial depth, strategic knowledge and global influence in the transportation space today.” He added that “there are a lot of places to access capital, but very few who truly understand what we’re doing.”
Painter did not respond to Term Sheet’s questions about whether he or his existing investors had reservations around taking capital from SoftBank following the Jamal Khashoggi scandal. (Update: Fair emailed Term Sheet a statement saying that “SoftBank has demonstrated an excellent understanding of our mission” and that “Fair’s Investment was led by SoftBank Group, and not the Vision Fund.”)
….AND MORE DEAL NEWS: SoftBank’s biggest backers balk at planned $16 billion acquisition of WeWork. Pinterest is getting ready for an early 2019 IPO. Altria is nearing a deal to take a 35% stake in Juul at a ~$38 billion valuation.
• Swiggy, an India-based food delivery company, raised $1 billion in funding. Naspers led the round, and was joined by investors including Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, Wellington Management Company, DST Global, Meituan Dianping and Coatue Management.
• Earnin, developer of an app that gives people access to their paycheck directly from their smartphones, raised $125 million in funding. Investors include DST Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, March Capital Partners, Coatue Management and Ribbit Capital.
• ACV Auctions Inc., a Buffalo, N.Y.-based dealer-to-dealer, online wholesale automotive marketplace, raised $93 million in Series D funding. Bain Capital Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners co-led the round, and were joined by investors including Future Fund, Tribeca Ventures and Armory Square Ventures.
• Boosted, Inc., a provider of last-mile electric vehicles, raised $60 million in Series B funding. Khosla Ventures and iNovia Capital co-led the round, and were joined by investors including Stanford-StartX Fund and Bay Meadows.
• Sprout Social, a Chicago-based provider of social media marketing, analytics and advocacy solutions for business, raised $40.5 million in funding. Future Fund led the round, and was joined by investors including Goldman Sachs and New Enterprise Associates.
• Gorilla Technology Group, a Taiwan-based computer vision solutions provider, raised $15 million in Series D funding from SBI Investment.
• Silicon Mobility, a France-based developer of semiconductors that are used to increase energy efficiency and reduce pollutant emissions, raised $10 million in Series B funding. Capital-E and Cipio Partners co-led the round.
• Flux, a U.K.-based fintech company, raised $7.5 million in Series A funding. E.ventures led the round, and was joined by investors including PROfounders and Anthemis.
• DEVCON, a cybersecurity software company focused on preventing ad fraud, raised $4.5 million in seed funding. Las Olas VC led the round, and was joined by investors including Paul Judge and Adam Ghetti.
HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES DEALS
• Relay Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of oncology therapeutics, raised $400 million in Series C funding. SoftBank Vision Fund led the round, and was joined by investors including Foresite Capital, Perceptive Advisors and Tavistock Group. Existing investors GV, Casdin Capital, BVF Partners, EcoR1 Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, and an affiliate of D.E. Shaw Research.
• Pandion Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech company focused on treating autoimmune and inflammatory disease, raised funding of an undisclosed amount from JDRF T1D Fund.
• Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) agreed to acquire BuildingConnected, a San Francisco-based construction communication platform, for $275 million in cash. BuildingConnected had raised more than $50 million in funding from investors including CrossLink Capital, Homebrew, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Bee Partners.
• Cinven agreed to buy One.com, a Denmark-based provider of domain names and web hosting solutions, from Accel-KKR. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.