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In Jack Ma vs. the Chinese government, China wins

January 27, 2021, 3:28 PM UTC

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Ant Financial was set to be the biggest IPO in history last year, before founder Jack Ma’s criticism of the Chinese government in October angered the administration and derailed the offering altogether.

Since then, Ma has been scrabbling together his olive branches in the hopes of getting back into regulators’ good graces.

And on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ant Financial is preparing for further nationalization, planning to turn itself “into a financial holding company overseen by China’s central bank.” The details have yet to be cemented. While it’s no surprise that the Chinese government would come out on top in all of this, there’s much irony in the situation.

In that fateful October speech, Ma spoke out against regulations that he believed were stifling innovation, comparing the incumbent banking system to pawnshops. Now, Ant Financial is facing greater regulation that could hit its bottom line.

What I can’t help but think about: What could this mean for other entrepreneurs in the internet space that have grown massively powerful in recent years?

CHAMATH PALIHAPITIYA FOR CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR? SPAC evangelist and early Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya wants to be the Warren Buffett of tech investing. He also appears to have thrown his name into the ring for Governor of California, tweeting Tuesday, “It’s on. #RecallGavinNewsom,” and linking to a website dubbed “Chamath for California Governor

On his campaign website (?), the investor called to reduce the state tax down the zero and end student loans. That question mark, by the way, is no editing error. In a subsequent tweet, Palihapitiya threw a dash of uncertainty to the idea, writing: “today was busy… I announced I’m running for governor of CA?” I’ve reached out to see what all of this means, but no clue yet.

Either way, a government job will undoubtedly create a cascade of conflict-of-interest issues and mountains of paperwork for the very active investor. 

Palihapitiya has also jumped into Gamestop, the stock currently at the center of a frenzied war between retail investors and hedge funds. My colleague, Bernhard Warner, has a great explanation on why the Reddit bettors—and their ability to cooperate via social media—aren’t going away anytime soon (teaser alert: hedge funds hold about 3% of U.S. equities while retail traders hold an estimated 36%).

CALENDLY: About two months ago, I reported that Calendly, an Atlanta, Ga.-based scheduling platform, had been in talks to raise at a roughly $3 billion valuation. On Tuesday, the company announced that it did actually make a deal. The company raised $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners with participation from Iconiq Capital. The deal is a mix of both cash to the company itself and to early shareholders and employees. What’s also notable: The deal makes for one of the single-digit U.S.-based unicorn startups with a Black founder at the helm. Read more.

VENTURE DEALS

- Sila Nanotechnologies, an Alameda, Calif.-based battery startup, raised $590 million at a $3.3 billion valuation. Coatue led the round and was joined by investors including T. Rowe Price, 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures.

- DriveNets, an Israel-based networking software company, raised $208 million in Series B funding, valuing it at over $1 billion. D1 Capital Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Bessemer Venture Partners, Pitango, and Atreides Management.

- Booksy, a U.K.-based maker of a beauty and wellness appointment booking app, raised $70 million in a Series C funding. Cat Rock Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Sprints Capital. 

- Splashtop, a San Jose, Calif.-based remote support company, raised $50 million, valuing it at over $1 billion. Sapphire Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including NEA, DFJ DragonFund, and Storm Ventures.

- Airspace, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based logistics company, raised $38 million in Series C funding. Telstra Ventures and HarbourVest Partners led the round and were joined by investors including Scale Ventures, Defy Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, and Prologis Ventures.

- Nexii Building Solutions, a Canadian building tech company, raised roughly CAD$33 million ($25 million). Investors include Lotus Capital Corp.

- Playvox, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based leading contact center provider, raised $25 million. Five Elms Capital led the round.

- Token, a London-based open banking startup, raised $15m in Series B funding. Investors included SBI Investment Co. and Sony Innovation Fund by IGV as well as Octopus Ventures, EQT Ventures, and Opera Tech Ventures.

- Kate Farms, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based maker of plant-based, raised an additional $9 million in Series B funding. Main Street Advisors invested.

- Vessel, a San Diego, Calif.-based maker of a wellness tracker, raised $8 million in funding. Monogram Capital Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Able, BFG, Cove, and Sidekick.

- Tealbook, a Canadian supplier sourcing data company, raised $14.4 million in Series A funding. RTP Global led the round.

- FINESSE, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based maker of a software platform for fashion trends, raised $4.5 million in pre-seed and seed funding from investors including Alex Roetter (Former Head of Engineering at Twitter), and Ali Diab (CEO of Collective Health).

- Esme Learning Solutions, a Newton, Mass.-based digital learning platform, raised $7.5 million in Series A funding. Adit Ventures led the round.

- Wyre, a San Francisco-based blockchain payments company, raised $5 million from the Stellar Development Foundation. 

- Kevala, a Seattle-based maker of workforce management software for care facilities, raised $4 million in seed funding. Vulcan Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Costanoa Ventures, High Alpha, and PSL Ventures.

- Club Feast, a San Francisco-based subscription-based restaurant delivery service, raised  $3.5 million in seed funding. General Catalyst led the round.

- Sturish, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based e-commerce platform, raised $3.2 million in seed funding.  Neo led the round and was joined by investors including Act One Ventures and Fika Ventures.

- Perchpeek, a London-based relocation agent, raised $2.7 million. Episode 1 led the round.

- GoodTrust, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup focused on wills and social media accounts of the deceased, raised $2.3 million in seed funding. Investors included Bling Capital, Synetro Ventures, Azure Capital Partners, Nikesh Arora, Bobby Lo, and Christian Wiklund. 

- Catalytic, a Chicago-based no-code company, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from In-Q-Tel.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Blackstone will acquire the majority of Allstates life insurance business for $2.8 billion. Read more.

- EQT agreed to acquire Exeter Property Group, a property manager, for about $1.9 billion.

- Carlyle Group increased its offer for Japan Asia Group, an environmental services firm, to 48 billion yen ($462.5 million). Read more.

- Bertram Capital invested in Lectric eBikes, a Phoenix-based designer of electric bicycles and accessories. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Boyne Capital acquired Double Wood, a Philadelphia-based nutritional supplements company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- E78 Partners acquired Austin-based 9Gauge Partners, an Austin-based management consulting firm. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Equistone Partners Europe agreed to acquire a majority stake in Kusters Beheer, a Netherlands-based manufacturer of precision components. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Granite Creek Capital Partners has made an investment in Life Spine, a Huntley, Ill.-based medical device company focused on spinal implants. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Grant Avenue Capital acquired a majority stake in Valeo Home Health and Hospice, a Salt Lake City-based provider of hospice services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Sunstone Partners acquired and combined Evergreen Systems, Cerna Solutions, and Novo/Scale, consulting companies focused on ServiceNow. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Sycamore Partners will recapitalize Belk, the Charlotte, N.C.-based department store, remaining as its majority stakeholder. 

EXITS

- L Catterton Asia Advisors is weighing a sale of Owndays, a Japanese eyewear retailer, per Bloomberg citing sources. A deal could fetch about $300 million. Read more.

- Rabobank acquired ZorgDomein, a Netherlands-based healthcare referral platform, from Levine Leichtman Capital Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

OTHERS

- Cici's, the Texas-based pizza buffet chain, filed for bankruptcy protection. Oncap backs the firm.

- NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR) agreed to acquire Cardtronics (Nasdaq: CATM), an ATM operator, for about $2.5 billion including debt. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- TFI International agreed to acquire UPS Freight from UPS for $800 million. 

- Algolia acquired MorphL, a St. Louis, Mo.-based startup using A.I. to personalize online services. Google Digital News Initiative had funded the company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Synchrony (NYSE: SYF) agreed to acquire Allegro Credit, a Burlingame, Calif.-based point-of-sale consumer financing services company for audiology products, dental services and musical instruments.  Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Twitter acquired Revue, a Netherlands-based newsletter publishing company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.  Read more.

IPO

- Moonpig Group, the U.K.-based online greeting cards maker, plans to raise as much as 384 million pounds ($524 million) in an IPO in the country. Exponent Private Equity backs the firm. Read more.

SPACs

- Sharecare, an Atlanta, Ga.-based digital health startup, is in talks to merge with Falcon Capital Acquisition Corp, a SPAC, per Reuters citing sources. Sharecare would merge with Doc.ai, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based healthcare tech company, valuing the combined business at $4 billion. Read more.

- Wheels Up Partners, a New York-based private jet startup backed by NEA and Delta Air Lines, is in talks to merger with Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle Corp, a SPAC, per Reuters citing sources. A deal could value the company at  $2 billion. Read more.

- Ares Acquisition, the Ares Management SPAC seeking a sustainable business, now plans to raise $725 million, up from an estimated $600 million. Read more.

- DiamondHead Holdings, a SPAC led by Diamond Head Partners founder David Hamamoto, raised $300 million. Read more.

- Catcha Investment Corp., a SPAC founded by entrepreneur Patrick Grove, filed to raise $250 million. Read more.

F+FS

- TCV, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture capital firm, raised $4 billion for TCV XI.

- Bracket Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment firm focused on venture capital secondaries, raised $450 million across its second fund ($150 million) and co-investment vehicles ($300 million). Read more.

- Union Square Ventures, a New York-based venture firm, raised $250 million for its 2021 Core Fund.

- Prime Movers Lab, a Jackson, Wyo.-based an investor in scientific startups, raised $245 million for its second early-stage investment fund.

- ServiceNow (NYSE: NOW), a Santa Clara, Calif.-based digital workflow company, launched a $100 million ServiceNow Racial Equity Fund.

PEOPLE

- Greycroft, a New York-based investing firm, promoted Matt Parker to partner and Massimo Pennisi to principal.

- New Enterprise Associates, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based investor, named Ann Bordetsky as a partner and Sheila Lirio Marcelo as a venture partner.

- Centana Growth Partners, a growth equity firm focused on financial services, promoted Matthew Alfieri to principal and Jay Lee to vice president. 

- Gridiron Capital, a New Canaan, Conn.-based firm, promoted Nick Weido to vice president.

- Archimed, a French investment firm focused on healthcare, named Justin Bateman as a partner.