July 10, 2020
Food delivery startup Postmates considered going it alone.
In the end, the startup sold to Uber for $2.65 billion rather than sell shares via an initial public offering. Why sell rather than try to become your own company?
That’s the question we posed to Nabeel Hyatt of Spark Capital, who sat on the board of Postmates before its acquisition.
Postmates isn’t Spark’s only portfolio company to be acquired in recent days. The firm also invested in at-home fitness startup Mirror, which sold to athleisure retailer Lululemon in late June for $500 million.
Hyatt is on the boards of companies that are facing both the benefits and the struggle that come with the pandemic: Discord (a communication app popular among gamers that recently raised $100 million) and Sonder (a short-term rental company in the same space as Airbnb that recently laid off a reported third of its staff before raising $170 million).
So Term Sheet sat down with the investor to discuss why those companies decided to be acquired—plus the surge of interest in platforms like Discord and Clubhouse of late.
Here’s our conversation, edited for clarity.
When did Postmates start talking to Uber?
One answer is two weeks ago, and the other is all the time for the last four years. It’s a weird situation that I’ve never seen in startups before, which is all of the major [food delivery] players—Grubhub, Doordash, Postmates, Uber—they have all been regularly talking and knew each other’s businesses. On the inside, everybody was trading books. It really heated up [between Postmates and Uber] I would say 48 hours before it hit the press and it all happened very quickly.
The IPO seems to be the dream—to go it alone. And Postmates thought about that path. So why not go public?
That’s probably the most important question, given that Postmates could have absolutely gone public and we were ready to go public. Ultimately, I think it’s a question of price and a question of what is right for the market in the long term. And it’s a very extensive proposition to build a nationwide, on-demand delivery service. Ultimately it was up to the team, and they believed it was better from a price standpoint, that it was better for shareholders, and also that it would be a great opportunity to be able to marry the technology Postmates has built with the balance sheets of Uber so they can actually execute at scale. Postmates has historically been the underfunded competitor and was on the verge of profitability.
I think it could have gone the other way and I would have been happy to be a board member of Postmates if it had gone public, but I also think this is a great marriage. I have no plans to sell [the new Uber shares] right now. I still think there is very low penetration for on-demand delivery, and if you think about where Uber is in the recovery of ride-sharing—I’m an enthusiastic shareholder.
So from a pricing standpoint, Postmates would have raised less, had they decided to go the IPO route?
Yes, it was a richer offer to go with Uber.
Let me ask you the same question of Mirror, which sold to Lululemon recently. Why not go it alone?
It’s the perennial question. I think the decision to sell a company is a really personal decision for a founder or CEO, especially if you are still the CEO. It’s the thing you remember building and remember being the first person to believe in it. Kevin Thau led the deal for us at Mirror, and I have no doubt he had long conversations with Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam about which way to go.
But ultimately…we are not in the business of being majority shareholders, we are stewards, so the CEO is going to make the call they are going to make. It comes down to the person. In the case of Lululemon, they made a very aggressive offer and Brynn saw potential in Lululemon.
You also have portfolio companies that are in the direct route of the coronavirus: Sonder. What has it been like to invest in it?
Sonder pivoted a lot of their outreach to people who are trying to work away from home. Now they are above 70% occupancy by focusing on urban travel markets—so, travelling inside your own city—and on emergency workers and healthcare workers. That combo has made it a viable business. They just changed the business pretty drastically in the last six months.
What is your pace of investing like now, given the disruption of the pandemic?
In the first month and a half, it was really hard to invest in new companies because it was responsible to spend time with your CEOs in crisis management mode. There were a good six weeks of constant, seven-days-a-week work on trying to make sure the companies were making the right moves. That has largely subsided. There have been issues, but it’s more normalized now. We are now investing at a similar pace.
We did not have to shutter any companies due to COVID. Did we have to write some checks to bridge them through the crisis? Absolutely.
You are invested in Discord. Clubhouse often draws parallels—and has more recently been pulled into a quite loud debate, especially on Twitter.
Are you trying to draw me into a media vs. VCs conversation [laughs]? Let’s skip that topic, I’ve stayed out of this for a very specific reason, and I’d rather keep that up.
In that case, what about your purely investing perspective?
I’ve used Clubhouse some. If you want to loop into this topic more loosely, I will say this: In a world where we are all stuck at home and not seeing each other as much, I think synchronous media in general has more value potentially than asynchronous media. We need to find a way to do intimacy at scale. While asynchronous media is a good way to spread a meme, it’s not exactly a good way to get to know a person.
So for products like Discord, Clubhouse, Houseparty—and frankly maybe the most powerful today are computer games like Fortnite or other online multiplayer games like Minecraft—their value to us as a society is pretty high right now. I think it is the best way to connect to people and feel closer to somebody in a world where you can’t all have a dinner party.