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SoftBank Cuts the Leash on Troubled Dog-Walking Startup Wag

December 10, 2019, 3:01 PM UTC

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SoftBank has decided to end its relationship with struggling dog-walking startup Wag. The Japanese behemoth has agreed to sell its nearly 50% stake back to the company, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“We are amicably parting ways with SoftBank and SoftBank will no longer have Board representation,” Wag CEO Garrett Smallwood said in an internal memo to employees, adding: “Today, we said goodbye to a number of our friends and colleagues as we align our organization with the needs of our business.”

The price of the deal is unknown, but it is reportedly “well below” the roughly $650 million valuation at which SoftBank made its $300 million investment early last year. The Vision Fund is also giving up its two seats on Wag’s board. Other investors that have backed the company include General Catalyst, Battery Ventures and Acme.

Wag has had its share of struggles. It underwent a vast round of layoffs while also dealing with issues around insufficient growth, financial underperformance, and even runaway dogs. According to a CNN investigation, the company’s woes became even more pronounced after SoftBank pumped a massive round of funding into the startup.

Wag is yet another example of a struggling yet beyond-well-funded company in the SoftBank Vision Fund portfolio. Some of its companies have performed poorly on the public markets, while others never even made it there.

Here’s the thing: It’s a well-known reality that some of the startups in a VC’s portfolio won’t be knock-out successes. But when you’re cutting checks that are a minimum of $100 million, that means the startups that fail will fail big. And those implosions will reverberate throughout the entire ecosystem.

SoftBank is in a tough spot. It needs to prove that its money doesn’t drown companies to death, that it doesn’t hold “founders and venture capitalists hostage to their money,” and that, ultimately, it can pick winners. It needs to do all this while also improving its reputation among fellow VCs and founders. That, my friends, is one tall order.

— 

AWAY CEO IS OUT: Luggage startup Away has replaced CEO Steph Korey after she came under fire for her management style in an in-depth investigation by The Verge. In the piece, employees describe intimidation tactics, manipulative behavior, and a culture of toxicity — all trickling down from the company’s top executives. Korey will be replaced by Stuart Haselden, the former chief operating officer at Lululemon Athletica.

After the story was published, my Twitter feed was insufferable. It was a firestorm of hot takes, name-calling, and basically nothing interesting that actually furthered the conversation. 

Although the parody account “VC Starter Kit” did post nuanced anonymous questions on the Away situation: “What could the leadership team have done at the time to help this avoid spiraling? Rather than see salutes to the hustle, I want to know what VCs weighing in publicly would have done to help the company if they were on the board.” And, “What I’m curious and conflicted about my own answer is: if the CEO was a male is this story 10x bigger, 10x smaller, or the same?”

Anyway, every time I see the Twitter crowd assemble and pull out the pitchforks, I always think of that part in A Tale of Two Cities in which Charles Darnay is on trial and Charles Dickens writes that “a buzz arose in the court as if a cloud of great blue-flies were swarming about the prisoner, in anticipation of what he was soon to become.”

Polina Marinova
Twitter: @polina_marinova
Email: polina.marinova@fortune.com 

VENTURE DEALS

- You & Mr Jones, a New York-based developer and distributor of content that helps businesses build brands, raised $200 million in Series B funding at a valuation of $1.3 billion. Investors include Baillie Gifford

- Imperative Care, a Campbell, Calif.-based company focused on stroke treatments, raised $85 million in Series C funding. Ally Bridge Group and Bain Capital Life Sciences co-led the round, and was joined by investors including Ascension Ventures, Delos Capital, Rock Springs Capital, 3H Health Investment, and Incept LLC

- Passport, a Charlotte, N.C.-based mobility management platform, raised $65 million in Series D funding. Investors include Rho Capital Partners, H.I.G. Growth Partners and ThornTree Capital Partners.

- CyberGRX, a Denver-based provider of a global cyber risk exchange, raised $40 million in Series D funding. ICONIQ Capital led the round, and was joined by investors including AllegisCyber, Bessemer Venture Partners, The Blackstone Group, ClearSky, GV, MassMutual Ventures, Scale Venture Partners and TenEleven Ventures.

- Sevan Multi-Site Solutions, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based provider of construction management services, raised $17.5 million in Series A funding. ABS Capital Partners led the round.

- FintechOS, a Romania-based company focused on hyper-personalised, automated financial technology, raised 10.7 million pounds ($14 million) in Series A funding. Earlybird’s Digital East Fund and OTB Ventures co-led the round, and were joined by investors including Gapminder Ventures and Launchub.

- Current Health, a U.K.-based artificial intelligence-powered patient management platform, raised $11.5 million (£9 million) in Series A funding. MMC Ventures led the round, and was joined by investors including Legal & General, Par Equity and Scottish Investment Bank.

- Yumi, a Los Angeles-based science-based nutrition and meal delivery company for children, raised $8 million in funding. Investors include the founders of Warby Parker, Allbirds, Harry’s, Sweetgreen, SoulCycle, Uber, Casper, and the CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee.

- Embrace, a Culver City, Calif.-based performance monitoring and analytics platform built for mobile apps, raised $7.5 million in Series A funding. AV8 Ventures led the round, and was joined by investors including Y Combinator, Greycroft, Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Andrew Miklas.

- Tribal, a provider of business cards for startups, raised $5.5 million in seed funding. BECO Capital and Global Ventures co-led the round, and was joined by investors including Endure Capital, 500 Startups, Valve VC, AR Ventures, Off The Grid Ventures, Rising Tide Fund, RiseUp, and Tribe Capital.

- GOSU.AI, a Lithuania-based developer of an AI-driven video coach, raised $2.8 million in funding. Brighteye Ventures led the round.

HEALTH & LIFE SCIENCES DEALS

- Zentalis Pharmaceuticals, a New York-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, raised $85 million in Series C funding. Investors include Matrix Capital, Viking Global Investors, Redmile Group, Farallon Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Surveyor Capital and Eventide Asset Management.

- Jasper Therapeutics Inc, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based biotechnology company, raised $35 million in Series A funding. Abingworth LLP and Qiming Venture Partners co-led the round, and were joined by investors including Surveyor Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments, LLC.

PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS

- Blue Point Capital Partners acquired Mattco Forge Inc, a Paramount, Calif.-based maker of forged metal products primarily for the aerospace and defense industry. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- Paine Schwartz Partners made an investment in Warburton Technology, a producer of trace-mineral injections for cattle. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- PharMedQuest, which is backed by Kinderhook Industries, acquired Longs Pharmacy - Solutions, a Columbia, S.C.-based provider of pharmacy management services and specialty pharmacy operations. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- Suma Capital made an investment in Implika Education, a Spain-based company focused on professional and vocational training. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- Gravity, a company backed by Clearlake Capital Group, acquired On Point Oilfield Holdings, an Austin, Texas-based oilfield fluids waste solutions company.

- Marlin Equity Partners acquired Logicalware, a Scotland-based provider of a multi-tenant, cloud-based email automation, workflow management and customer service ticketing solution. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

EXITS

- Harvest Partners acquired Lazer Spot, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based provider of outsourced yard management services. Financial terms weren't disclosed. The seller was Greenbriar Equity Group.

FIRMS + FUNDS

- May River Capital LLC, a Chicago-based private equity investment firm, raised $300 million for its sophomore fund, May River Capital Fund II, LP.

PEOPLE

- Artis Ventures named Ameena El-Bibany as a principal.

- Angelo Gordon named David Blum as a managing director.

- John Gordy and John Haesler joined Aspen Capital Group as principals. 

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