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SoftBank ramps up its unicorn bets in 2021, taking a social media company to $1 billion

June 15, 2021, 2:55 PM UTC

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IRL, a Gen-Z-focused messaging app maker with just 25 employees, became a unicorn on Tuesday. 

It’s an enormous valuation for a company with so few workers. But IRL’s attainment of unicorn status had been anticipated for a while. New social media companies have been red hot recently, and The Information in April reported that IRL in particular was in the process of raising at a $1 billion-plus valuation. Sure enough, the San Francisco-based social media company said Tuesday it raised $170 million in Series C funding that values it at nearly $1.2 billion. 

Noting attrition among Facebook’s younger users, IRL CEO Abraham Shafi and co-founder Scott Banister saw an opportunity to create a calendar- and chat-focused app for that audience, with offerings similar to Facebook’s own events and group features. As with many of the newer social media companies to crop up, including Clubhouse, the company has yet to post any revenue, but it hopes to eventually do so by taking a cut of fees charged by users offering services on the platform (a yoga class or membership dues, for instance). 

Interest in U.S. social media companies has recently reignited after a dry spell when many investors believed the incumbents had locked out new players. But few of the newcomers have managed to reach unicorn status—yet. Per data from Pitchbook, aside from Clubhouse and Nextdoor, no other U.S.-based social media company has raised at a $1 billion-plus valuation since Snapchat in 2014. Now IRL is joining the crew, with an estimated 12 million monthly active users and growth of 400% since the start of the coronavirus, according to the company.

What came as an even greater surprise was the investor leading the round. The Information had reported that none other than Tiger Global—the most active unicorn investor of 2020—and IVP had been in talks to invest. On Tuesday though, the company revealed that it was the SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with participation from investors such as Dragoneer, Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund, and Floodgate, that would lead the round. Tiger was not named an investor in the press release announcing IRL’s new round of funding.

Having boosted the size of its second Vision Fund from $10 billion to a whopping $30 billion in May, SoftBank has made its weight and reach well known in recent months. Entirely absent from rankings of the 10 most active investors leading rounds in unicorn companies worldwide in 2020, it is now tied for sixth (alongside T. Rowe Price, Altimeter, and D1 Capital Partners) in 2021 as of late Monday, per data from Pitchbook. And that calculation likely doesn’t even include SoftBank’s $360 million round in Carro, a Singapore-based marketplace for used cars, announced early Tuesday.

Other investments by SoftBank’s Vision Fund this year have included Swedish fintech Klarna and Singapore-based retail analytics company Trax.

In conversation with Term Sheet, IRL CEO Shafi acknowledged that other investors had preemptively looked to back the company. “I chose SoftBank because they have a really great reputation for believing in a company post- and pre-IPO, and for investing in social networks,” he said, pointing to TikTok operator Bytedance. 

Shafi’s remarks made me wonder if the absurdity of SoftBank’s strategy in 2019, which was viewed as bordering on delusional (it poured $1.7 billion into a single round for WeWork), had turned into something of an advantage from a marketing perspective in 2021. Perhaps the gloss of its recent success from high-profile exits in companies like Coupang, combined with its willingness to pour billions into companies that were considered unviable (and many were) two years ago, can be framed as a story of “unwavering conviction” today—despite the painful failures of parts of its portfolio. 

STRIPE: Everyone wants a piece of the payments giant. Per the Wall Street Journal, investors including Shopify and Sequoia have acquired about $1 billion in shares of the company in secondary sales.

Lucinda Shen


- Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce company backed by Walmart, is in talks to raise $500 million from ADQ, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund, per Bloomberg. A deal could value the company between $35 billion and $40 billion.

- Thumbtack, a San Francisco-based maker of a marketplace to find home services professionals, raised $275 million in a deal that values it at $3.2 billion. Qatar Investment Authority led the round and was joined by investors including Blackstone Alternative Asset Management, and G Squared. 

- PayCargo, a Coral Gables, Fla.-based freight payment platform, raised $125 million in Series B funding. Insight Partners led the round.

- Heliogen, a Pasadena, Calif.-based renewable energy tech company, raised $108 million in two rounds. Investors included ArcelorMittal, Edison International, Prime Movers Lab, Ocgrow Ventures, and A.T. Gekko.

HiFiBiO Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech, raised $75 million in Series D funding. Mirae Asset Financial Group led the round and was joined by investors including Further, B Capital Group, Sherpa, Maison Capital, Trinity Innovation Fund, Grand Mount, and HKSTP Venture Fund, IDG, Sequoia, Legend Star, and Hengxu.

- Bitwise Asset Management, a San Francisco-based cryptocurrency index fund manager, raised $70 million in Series B funding, valuing it at $500 million. Elad Gil and Electric Capital led the round and were joined by investors including Henry Kravis, Stanley Druckenmiller, Third Point, Willoughby Capital, Vetamer Capital, Bridgewater CEO David McCormick, D1 CIO Daniel Sundheim, former U.S. Federal Reserve Governor Kevin Warsh, and more.

- Formative, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based student data platform, raised $70 million. Summit Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Emerson Collective, Fika Ventures, Mac Ventures and Rethink Education.

- JOOR, a New York City-based digital wholesale platform for luxury, fashion and home, raised $46 million in Series D funding. Macquarie Capital Principal Finance led the round and was joined by investors including ITOCHU Corporation, Battery Ventures and Canaan Partners.

- CAMP4 Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech using RNA, raised $45 million. 5AM Ventures and Northpond Ventures led the round and were joined by investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Polaris Partners, and The Kraft Group.

- Sanity Group, a Berlin-based cannabis startup, raised $44.2 million in Series A funding. Redalpine led the round and was joined by investors including Navy Capital, SOJE Capital, and GMPVC.

- The Pill Club. a San Mateo, Calif.-based telehealth provider, raised $41.9 million. Investors included ACME, Base10, GV, Shasta Ventures, and VMG, as well as Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi, Honey’s George Ruan, and iGlobe.

- Elisity, a San Jose, Calif.-based platform for identity- and behavior-based enterprise cybersecurity, raised $26 million in Series A funding. Two Bear Capital and AllegisCyber Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Atlantic Bridge.

- Phase Four, an El Segundo, Calif.-based maker of electric satellite propulsion systems, raised $26 million in Series B funding. New Science Ventures led the round.

- Macrometa Corporation, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based edge computing cloud and data network for developers, raised $20 million in Series A funding. Pelion Venture Partners led the round and was joined by investors including DNX Ventures, Benhamou Global Ventures, Partech Partners, Fusion Fund, Sway Ventures, and Shasta Ventures. 

- Carbyne, a New York City-based emergency collaboration platform maker, raised $20 million. Investors included Hanaco VC, Intercap VC, and Elsted Capital.

- SkyWatch Space Applications, a Canada-based space technology startup, raised $17.2 million in Series B funding. Drive Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Bullpen Capital, Space Capital, Golden Ventures, and BDC Ventures.

- Upflow, a Paris-based payments collection software provider for businesses, raised $15 million. Investors include 9yards Capital and existing investor eFounders

- Underground Cellar, a San Francisco-based online wine and wine discovery shop, raised $12.5 million in Series A funding. Accomplice led the round and was joined by investors including Golden Ventures and Bling Capital. 

- Vässla, a Swedish maker of bikes and e-mopeds, raised $11 million. Skabholmen Invest led the round.

- ThreatX, a Denver, Colo.-based web application and API protection platform, raised $10 million in funding led by .406 Ventures. Existing investors Access Venture Partners and Grotech Ventures, also participated.

- Xolo, an  Estonia-based online platform for launching businesses in Europe, raised $3.9 million (€3.2 million). Investors include Karma Ventures and Vendep Capital.

- UtilizeCore, a New York City-based power service management tech provider, raised $5.3 million. boldstart ventures led the round and was joined by investors including S12F and Mantis VC.

- Finley, a San Francisco-based maker of software for raising debt, raised $3 million in seed funding. Matt Harris of Bain Capital Ventures led the round and was joined by investors Haystack, Nine Four Ventures, Twenty Two Ventures, and Y Combinator.

- Minimum, a London-based startup that makes apps to calculate personal carbon emissions, raised $2.6 million in seed funding. Octopus Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Clocktower Ventures, Dutch Founders Fund, Plug & Play Ventures, and AGO Partners.

- Ophelos, a London-based debt collection startup, raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding. Connect Ventures and Fly Ventures led the round.

- Selfbook, a New York City-based maker of management and booking software for hotels, raised $2 million in seed funding. TenOneTen Ventures, Abstract Ventures, and Better Tomorrow Ventures.


- Prosus acquired a majority stake in GoodHabitz, a European provider of online training for businesses, for about €212 million ($257 million). 

- Ara Partners acquired Anesco Holdings, the U.K.-based renewable energy building company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Berenson Capital acquired Interactive Digital Solutions, a Noblesville, Ind.-based video collaboration and telehealth solutions provider. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Burning Glass Technologies, backed by KKR, merged with  Emsi, a Moscow, Id.-based labor market analytics firm. KKR will invest in the combined company while Strada Education Network will exit. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Crest Rock Partners invested in CloudNine, a Houston-based automation software for litigation, investigations and audits. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Jensen Hughes, backed by Gryphon Investors, acquired FES Ghent, a Belgium-based provider of fire protection services and products. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- MHH Health, backed by Kinderhook, acquired Medical Card System, a Puerto Rico-based Medicare Advantage plan provider. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Tikehau Capital acquired a minority stake in Ecopol, an Italy-based manufacturer of water-soluble and biodegradable films for household single-dose detergents. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Versaterm Public Safety, backed by Banneker Partners, acquired Adashi Systems, a Baltimore, Md.-based provider of first-responder software. Financial terms weren't disclosed.


- Shutterfly, backed by Apollo, agreed to acquire Spoonflower, a Durham, N.C.-based marketplace for connecting consumers with artists, for about $225 million. Spoonflower investors have included Bull City Venture Partners.

- Unilever agreed to acquire Paula’s Choice, a Netherlands-based skin care brand, from TA Associates. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Vista Equity Partners and Blackstone acquired Ellucian, a Reston, Va.-based maker of software for higher education institutions, from TPG and Leonard Green & Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Humana agreed to acquire OneHome, a home-based care company, from WayPoint Capital Partners.


- Booz Allen Hamilton (NYSE: BAH) acquired Liberty IT Solutions, a Herndon, Va.-based IT services company, for $725 million. 

- D.A. Davidson agreed to acquire Marlin & Associates, a New York-based boutique investment bank in the financial technology and data & analytics industries. Financial terms weren't disclosed.


- Sprinklr, a New York City-based customer experience software company, is looking to raise as much as $380 million in an IPO of 19 million shares priced between $18 to $20 apiece. Hellman & Friedman, Battery Ventures, and ICONIQ back the firm.

- First Advantage, an Atlanta-based provider of human capital management, filed to raise as much as $318.8 million in an offering of 21.3 million shares (16% insider sold) priced between $13 to $15. Silver Lake and Workday back the firm.

- Verve Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech focused on gene editing therapies for cardiovascular disease, plans to raise as much as $212.4 million in an offering of 11.8 million shares priced between $16 to $18. Alphabet, Biomatics Capital Partners, and Arch Venture Partners back the firm.

- Century Therapeutics, a Philadelphia-based maker of treatments for cancers, now plans to raise as much as $212 million in an offering of 10.6 million shares priced between $18 to $20 apiece. Versant and Fujifilm back the firm.

- Cyteir Therapeutics, a Lexington, Mass.-based oncology biotech, says it plans to raise $133.4 million in an offering of 7.4 million shares priced between $16 to $18. Celgene and Droia Ventures back the firm.

- Ambrx Biopharma, a La Jolla, Calif.-based oncology company, now plans to raise as much as $133 million in an offering of 7 million ADSs priced between $17 to $19.  Wuxi Apptech and Fosun back the firm.

- LinkDoc Technology, a Beijing-based healthcare data company, filed to raise $100 million. NEA and Alibaba are among its investors.


- Mirion Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based radiation measurement and analytics company backed by Charterhouse Capital Partners, is in talks to go public via merger with GS Acquisition Holdings II, a SPAC, per Bloomberg. A deal could value the company at $2.5 billion.

- Virgin Orbit, a Long Beach, Calif.-based satellite company, is in talks to merge with NextGen Acquisition II, a SPAC that could value it at about $3 billion, per Sky News.


- G2 Venture Partners, a Portola Valley, Calif.-based venture firm, raised $500 million for its second fund.

- NewSpring, a Radnor, Pa.-based private equity firm, raised $120 million for its buyout strategy.

- SOSV, a Princeton, N.J.-based venture firm, raised $100 million for the SOSV Select Fund.

- Apollo Global Management, Ares Management Corporation, and Oaktree Capital Management, announced a 10-year, $90 million initiative to train and attract college students attending three Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College.


- The Securities and Exchange Commission named Renee Jones, a law professor at Boston College, as director of corporate finance.

- JLL Spark, a San Francisco-based proptech investor, named  Raj Singh as managing partner. He was previously head of investments and then as interim co-head at JetBlue Technology Ventures.

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