The problem with VC-backed founders who say they don’t care about getting rich
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In the legend, Robin Hood is a beloved outlaw stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
Now the company named after the folktale—the decacorn stock trading app Robinhood—is at the center of an identity crisis as critics accuse the company of giving up their populist roots in favor of hyper-growth. While its founders may not have sought to become wealthy, they are still likely to become billionaires if Robinhood goes public, and the company’s investors are likely to be significantly enriched by a deal expected to be announced in coming months.
Robinhood’s rise and struggles in recent months are the topic of my colleague Jeff John Roberts’ most recent magazine feature, detailing the founders’ motivations and the inherent issues with them as a company scales up into a business worth $11.7 billion:
“Those who knew Tenev and Bhatt at Stanford say the pair were more bookish than boorish. Tenev says personal wealth has never been their primary motivation—notwithstanding that they will likely become billionaires if Robinhood goes public. “We both wanted to be physics or math professors,” says Tenev. “You don’t do that because you want money.” (Bhatt was on paternity leave and unavailable for interviews during the reporting of this story.) When they launched Robinhood, the duo said they were inspired by the ideals of Occupy Wall Street; their corporate namesake, of course, is a folk hero who stole from the rich.
Still, like many of their tech-startup forebears, the founders have been criticized for forsaking populist principles in the pursuit of hyper-growth. For Robinhood, that criticism has revolved around both its gamified, casino-like design and its business model. And in the arena of options trading, the combination of those factors has put the startup on the defensive.”
Herein lies the issue for startups that say they are driven by a mission rather than money. Yes, it is possible that such founders want to make the world a better place, but they also must deliver real financial results to their venture capital backers. Hyper-growth is, after all, the name of the game.
Robinhood’s influence is hard to deny. While the company hasn’t become a verb akin to Google, its name has made its way into financial vernacular. Nothing has made that more apparent than the pandemic, when Robinhood helped fuel strange moves in the market. Remember how shares of bankrupt car rental company Hertz and equally bankrupt department store J.C. Penney soared over the summer? I can’t help but wonder to what extent Robinhood’s name has become a proxy for this new class of retail traders as a whole. In short? Read the full story here.
BLING RINGS UP A NEW FUND: Bling Capital, an early-stage venture fund founded by former Khosla Ventures General Partner Ben Ling, has raised $110 million across two funds, $77 million for its second seed fund and $36 million for a fund to make follow-on checks. Ling, who has invested in Palantir and Lyft personally and made bets on fintech Vise and at-home fitness company Tempo through Bling, plans to keep check sizes steady at $400,000 to a million per company through its second seed fund.
Ling told Term Sheet he will stick with his wheelhouse of subscription-based businesses and mobile marketplaces. And as vaccine news stirs hopes of a return back to normal, Ling says he sees an opportunity for “a new generation of companies” to serve what will be “younger, more tech-savvy” small businesses that will spring up as others shut down in the pandemic.
The investor is also considering leaving San Francisco for either Texas or Florida, largely due to tax reasons. Ling says that the city has become increasingly unsafe; his brother has been attacked on the city’s streets, he says, and one of his portfolio CEOs was robbed. “I have no issue with paying taxes,” says Ling, “but in S.F. these days you aren’t getting the quality of life associated with those taxes.” In his dissatisfaction with the city, he wouldn’t be alone.
Clarification: This post has been updated to reflect additional details about why Bling is considering leaving San Francisco.
- Everlywell, an Austin-based digital health company with a Covid test, raised $175 million in Series D funding. Investors included BlackRock, The Chernin Group, Foresite Capital, Greenspring Associates, Lux Capital, Morningside Ventures, and Portfolia, as well as existing investors Goodwater Capital, Highland Capital Partners, and Next Coast Ventures.
- Amount, a Chicago-based provider of digital banking services to financial institutions,raised $81 million in Series C funding. Goldman Sachs Growth led the round and was joined by investors including August Capital, Invus Opportunities and Hanaco Ventures.
- Virta Health, a San Francisco-based type 2 diabetes company, raised $65 million in Series D funding. Sequoia Capital Global Equities led the round.
- Sourcegraph, a San Francisco-based company with a tool for fixing code, raised $50 million in Series C funding. Sequoia Capital led the round.
- HODINKEE, a New York-based content maker focused on watches, raised $40 million in Series B funding. TCG and was joined by investors including including LVMH Luxury Ventures, True Ventures, Future Shape, Tom Brady, GV, and John Mayer.
- ultimate.ai, a Helsinki and Berlin-based company building a virtual customer service agent, raised $20 million in Series A funding. OMERS Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Felicis Ventures, HV Capital, and Maki.vc.
- Shop-Ware, a San Francisco-based aftermarket shop management software maker, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Insight Partners led the round.
- Fylamynt, a San Francisco-based maker of cloud automation software, raised $6.5 million in seed funding. Gradient Ventures led the round Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures.
- AgentSync, a Denver-based maker of infrastructure for insurance compnies, raised $6.7 million in seed extension funding. Craft Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Operator Collective.
- Supergreat, a New York-based app for beauty enthusiasts, raised $6.5 million in Series A funding. Benchmark led the round and was joined by investors including TQ Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Scooter Braun, Schuster Tanger and Andrew Marks, Michael Kives’ K5 Global, Shrug Capital, Thrive Capital, Hannah Bronfman and Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss.
- Welcome, a New York-based HR software maker, raised $6 million in seed funding. FirstMark Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Ludlow Ventures, Nat Turner, Zach Weinberg, Keenan Rice, and Ben Porterfield.
- Planned, a Canadian-based provider of a software for event planner, raised $4.7 million in venture funding. Investors included Inovia Capital, Telegraph Hill Capital, and N49P.
- Orbit, a San Francisco-based platform for developers, raised $4 million in seed funding. Andreessen Horowitz led the round and was joined by investors including Heavybit and Harrison Metal.
- Minerva Knows, a New York-based company making a way to share instructions, raised $4 million in funding. Craft Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including GGV Capital, Max Ventures, Charge Ventures, Sagehill Capital, Bayes Ventures, New York Venture Partners, and CapitalX.
- Soil Connect, a New York-based company focused on the soil and aggregates industry, raised $3.3 million in seed funding. TIA Ventures and Heartland Ventures led the round and were joined by CEMEX Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Situs Real Estate, Altmark Group, AB Investment Group, J.G. Pertucci Company and Bazella Contracting.
- Sketchy, a Los Angeles-based online education company, raised $3 million in additional funding from Reach Capital.
- Okay, a San Francisco-based dashboard for engineers, raised $2.2 million in seed funding. Sequoia Capital led the round.
- Segmed, a Stanford, Calif.-based way for curating medical data by anonymizing, standardizing and labeling, raised $2 million. Blumberg Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Nina Capital.
- Dorm, a London-based education platform for influencers, entrepreneurs and creators, raised $1 million in funding. Investors included Plug & Play Ventures, Playfair Capital, and RLC Ventures.
- Stark International Lux, backed by Charterhouse Capital Partners, plans to acquire BTG Specialty Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania-based pharmaceuticals company, for $800 million from Boston Scientific Corporation.
- BBH Capital Partners recapitalized Chime Solutions, a Morrow, Ga.-based customer service firm, with $30 million.
- Insight Partners invested in CommerceHub, an Albany, N.Y.-based provider of ecommerce solutions. Existing investors GTCR and Sycamore Partners will continue as investors in the company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Heartland Home Services, a portfolio company of North Branch Capital, acquired Action Plumbing and AC Engineers. Action, based in Sun Prairie, Wis., provides residential plumbing. AC, based in Shelby Township, Mich., focuses on heating and cooling. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- NuWave Solutions, backed by AE Industrial Partners, acquired BigBear, a provider of cloud-based big data analytics solutions to the national security community within the U.S. Government. financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Lightspeed POS acquired Upserve, a Rhode Island-based restaurant management software company, for $430 million from Vista Equity Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) agreed to acquire ShopRunner, a Chicago-based e-commerce marketplace backed by August Capital. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Mar’s KIND agreed to acquire Nature’s Bakery, a Carson City, N.V.-based family-owned maker of soft baked foods. VMG Partners backs Nature’s. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Novacap and Investissement Québec acquired Logibec, a Montreal-based healthcare software company from GI Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- TCP, backed by Providence Equity Partners, acquired Humanity, an employee scheduling platform backed by Team Builder Ventures. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Macquarie Group agreed to acquire Waddell & Reed Financial, a U.S.-based investment management firm, for $1.7 billion in cash.
- Roblox acquired Imbellus, a developer of edtech and simulation-based testing company. Investors of Imbellus have included Owl Ventures, Upfront Ventures, and Thrive Capital.
- Merck & Co. sold its stake in Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA), the biotech company with a Covid vaccine. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- XPO Logistics, a Greenwich, Conn.-based logistics company, plans to split into two public companies, spinning off its spin off its global contract logistics business while keeping its trucking and freight brokerage operations. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Content Partners acquired the library of FilmDistrict including Olympus Has Fallen, Looper, and Insidious 1&2. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Microsoft plans to acquire Smash.gg, a San Francisco-based esports company backed by Accel and Spark Capital.
- OTV, an Israeli digital health focused venture capital firm, raised $170 million.
- Newark Venture Partners named Michelle Morris as a venture partner and named Allison Williams to principal.
- OMERS Ventures named CNBC reporter Christina Farr as a partner based out of its Bay Area office.