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An unminted Black unicorn

November 20, 2020, 3:10 PM UTC

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Unlike the founders in Silicon Valley who sought to elevate the world’s consciousness or sell happiness, Tope Awotona’s start in startup land was refreshingly capitalist.

Sure, part of building a company was about bettering himself, but much of it was also about making money. “Initially it was for financial reasons—I literally needed to pay my bills,” the founder and CEO of scheduling company Calendly told me.

That mindset, combined with a cocktail of desperation and determination (and maybe a dash of stupidity, by his own reckoning, as he flew into Ukraine during a revolution to build the company), has turned Calendly into something investors like Accel, Iconiq, and Sequoia are now courting, sources told me. The three firms declined to comment.

Awotona’s unusual story is at the center of my new profile for Fortune. Calendly struggled in its early days to raise funding. But when its prominence grew and the company became profitable, Awotona was the one to say no to taking on new investors. The company has raised only $550,000 from investors such as Atlanta Ventures since its founding in 2013. But today, some of Calendly’s would-be suitors have casually valued the company “well north” of $1 billion, said Awotona. 

Indeed, as this story published, sources told me that the company has engaged in conversations that value it around $3 billion and would seek to provide liquidity to existing shareholders. Productivity software companies like Calendly have shot up in value amid the pandemic.

To be clear, the company isn’t a typical unicorn: The company has yet to consummate a deal that would value it at over $1 billion, and whether a conversation turns into a full deal is yet to be seen. Also what makes this company exceedingly rare: Awotona is one of the few Black founders with VC dollars who could breach the unicorn club.

Read the full story here.

MARCH OF THE UNICORNS: No doubt investors will be on overdrive in coming weeks. Following the IPO filings of Airbnb, DoorDash, and Affirm, gaming company Roblox has also submitted its S-1. Gaming has surged amid the pandemic, with revenue surging 68% to $588.7 milli,on in the nine months ending September compared to the same period a year earlier. But during the same period, the company said net losses grew 338% to $203.3 million. Popular among children under 13, the company hopes to also bolster its usage for those between 17 to 24. Roblox is backed by Altos Ventures, Meritech Capital, Index Ventures, and others. Read more.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda


- Forter, a New York-based e-commerce fraud prevention company, raised $125 million in Series E funding. Bessemer Venture Partners, Felix Capital and Itai Tsiddon led the round and were joined by investors including Sequoia Capital, NewView Capital, Scale Venture Partners, March Capital Partners, and Commerce Ventures. The round values the company at over $1.3 billion.

- Loadsmart, a New York-based digital freight technology company, raised $90 million in Series C funding. BlackRock and Chromo Invest led the round and were joined by investors including TFI International (NYSE: TFII), Maersk, Perry Capital, and Bramalea Partners.

- olist, a Brazil-based sales platform, raised 310 million reais ($58 million) in a Series D funding. SoftBank Latin America Fund led the round and was joined by investors including Valor Capital Group, Península, VELT Partners, FJ Labs, and Kevin Efrusy.

- Verbit, a New York-based transcription and captioning platform, raised $60 million in Series C funding. Sapphire Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Vertex Ventures, Stripes, HV Ventures, Clatech, and Vertex Growth

- Purespring Therapeutics, a U.K.-based gene therapy company focused on kidney diseases, was launched by Syncona (LON:SYNC) with £45 million ($60 million) in Series A funding. Syncona will have an 84% stake in the business.

- Zapata Computing, a Boston-based software company focused on quantum applications, raised $38 million in Series B funding. Comcast Ventures, Pitango, and Prelude Ventures led the round and were joined by BASF Venture Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, The Engine Accelerator Fund, Ahren Innovation Capital, Alumni Ventures Group, Honeywell Venture Capital, ITOCHU Corporation, and Merck Global Health Innovation Fund.

- FirstVet, a Swedish digital veterinary clinic, raised $35 million in funding. Mubadala Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Cathay Innovation, OMERS Ventures, and Creandum.

- AI21 Labs, a natural language processing startup, raised $34.5 million in funding. Pitango First led the round and was joined by investors including TPY Capital.

- Canvas, a San Francisco-based company using machine learning to install drywall at construction sites, raised $19 million from investors including Innovation Endeavors, Obvious Ventures, Brick & Mortar Ventures, and Grit Ventures.

- Obligo, a New York-based provider of deposit-free residential leasing tech, raised $15.5 million. Investors included 83North, 10D, Entrée Capital, and Viola Credit.

- Deepfence, a Milpitas, Calif.-based cloud protection platform, raised $9.5 million in Series A funding. AllegisCyber led the round and was joined by investors including Sonae IM and Chiratae Ventures.

- NestEgg, a Chicago-based helpdesk for rental properties, raised $7 million in Series A funding. Hyde Park Venture Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Bonfire Ventures, BAM Ventures, Financial Venture Studios, Dreamit Ventures, and Hyde Park Angels.

- Cottage, a San Fracncsico-based company focused on building additional housing on existing properties, raised $3.5 million in seed funding. Base10 Partners and Susa Ventures led the round.

- PLLAY, a Philadelphia-based video game wagering platform, raised $3 million in seed funding. Screen Play Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including NBA All-Star Bradley Beal.

- Juni, a Swedish online banking platform, raised €2 million ($2.4 million) in seed funding. Cherry Ventures led the round.

- Aya Payments, a Toronto-based healthcare payments startup, raised $2.9 million in funding. MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and Luge Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Anthemis Group, BDC Capital, and StandUp Ventures.

- Wave, a Los Angeles-based producer of virtual entertainment programs, raised an undisclosed of funding from Tencent Music (NYSE: TME). 


- Investors led by Digital Colony invested nearly $1.3 billion in Vantage Data Centers, a Santa Clara-based provider of data center campuses. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- The Carlyle Group has provided $95 million Zippy Shell, a to Wake Forest, N.C.-based moving and storage company. About $25 million was in the form of equity.

- Arcline Investment Management  acquired Evans Capacitor Company, an East Providence, RI.-based specialty electronic components company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- AutoQuotes, backed by Luminate Capital Partners, acquired Axonom, a Minnesota-based provider of virtual reality technologies. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- DeliverHealth Solutions, formed by Assured Healthcare Partners and Aeries Technology Group, acquired Nuance Communications’ (Nasdaq: NUAN) health information management transcription business and the Electronic Health Record business. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Investors including D1 Capital Partners, T. Rowe Price, Lone Pine Capital, and XN invested in Torchy’s Tacos, an Austin-based Taco restaurant chain, joining investor General Atlantic. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- PAI Partners acquired a majority stake in Euro Ethnic Foods, a European operator of the grocery section of food retailer Grand Frais. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Svoboda Capital Partners recapitalized Clarion Healthcare, a Boston-based consulting services to life sciences companies. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Warburg Pincus invested in McMakler, a German real estate agent. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Warburg Pincus invested in Quantum Health, a Columbus, Oh.-based consumer healthcare company. Great Hill Partners will remain the majority shareholder.


- Nasdaq agreed to acquire Verafin, a Canadian money laundering and fraud prevention company, for $2.8 billion. Spectrum Equity backs Verafin.

- FireEye acquired Respond Software, a Mountainview, Calif.-based cybersecurity company, for nearly $200 million. Respond investors included CRV, Foundation Capital, and ClearSky.

- Inspecs Group agreed to acquire Eschenbach Holding, a German provider of eyewear. Eschenbach is backed by  Equistone Partners Europe.


- Experian acquired Tapad, a New York-based provider of digital identity solutions for about $280 million from Telenor.

- BuzzFeed agreed to acquire HuffPost, a New York-based media company owned by Verizon. Verizon will also invest in Buzzfeed as part of the deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed. Read more.

- Voyager Space Holdings plans to acquire The Launch Company, a maker of hardware, ground support equipment, and processes for space launches. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Leonard Green & Partners acquired a majority stake in ECI Software Solutions, a loud-based business management software company, from Apax Partners and The Carlyle Group. Financial terms weren't disclosed.


- Sotera Health, a Broadview Heights, Oh.-based provider of lab services, raised $1.1 billion in its IPO. It posted revenue of $778 million in 2019 and losses of $20.9 million. Warburg Pincus and GTCR back the firm. Read more.

- Maravai LifeSciences, a San Diego, Calif.-based maker of products used for drug development and research, raised $1.6 billion. GTCR backs the firm. Read more.

- Yatsen, the Chinese cosmetics firm, raised $617 million in its IPO. Backers include Hillhouse Capital, Sequoia Capital, Tiger Global Management, Boyu Capital, and Chinese Culture Group. Read more.

- NeoGames, a Newark, De.-based online gaming tech provider to lottery operators, raised $82 million (45% sold by insiders). It posted revenues of $33 million and losses of $4 million in 2019. Read more.


- Liberty Media Acquisition, a blank check company formed by Liberty Media seeking a business in the entertainment or TMT space, filed to raise $500 million. Read more.

- Perella Weinberg Partners, the New York-based investment bank, is looking to IPO via merger with a SPAC, Reuters says citing sources. The firm is expected to fetch a $1 billion valuation. Read more.

- Butterfly Network, a Guilford, CT.-based digital health company, will combine with Longview Acquisition Corp, a SPAC sponsored by Glenview Capital Management. The combined firm will have an enterprise value of about $1.5 billion.

- Reinvent Technology Partners Z, the second blank check company formed by Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus seeking a company in the tech sector, raised $200 million. 


- Revolution, the venture firm co-founded by AOL co-founder Steve Case, raised $500 million in commitments for its fourth fund. Read more.

- Astanor Ventures, a venture firm focused on food and agriculture, raised $325 million for a fund.

- Sound Ventures,  co-founded by Ashton Kutcher  and Guy Oseary, plan to raise $150 million for a third fund. Read more.

- OurCrowd, the Israeli venture firm, raised $60 million after Orix Corp (T:8591) took a stake in the firm. 


- QED Investors hired Sandeep Patil to lead its investments in India and Southeast Asia.