Some early Apple One subscribers run into billing, renewal issues

A number of users who signed up for an Apple One free trial on day one are having billing issues as the free 30-day period ends.

Credit: AppleCredit: Apple

It’s been exactly one month since Apple One debuted on Oct. 30. And since Apple offered a one-month free trial for new subscribers of the service, that means the trial is automatically rolling over to a paid subscription for many users.

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With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple

Josh Elman is moving over to Apple, he announced on Twitter today, saying he will be focused on the company’s App Store and helping “customers discover the best apps for them.”

Asked for more details about his new role, Elman referred us to Apple, which confirmed his employment but declined to offer more, including about his new title. (This is typical operating procedure for the tech giant.)

Certainly, Elman has plenty of experience with fast-growing technologies and popular apps in particular.  One of his first jobs out of Stanford was with RealNetworks, a bubble-era internet streaming company that went public in 1997, three years after it was funded. (It remains publicly traded, though its market cap is just $60 million these days.)

After RealNetworks, it was on to LinkedIn, which Elman joined in 2004 as a senior product manager when the company was just two years old.  From there, Elman worked in product management at the custom apparel and accessories company Zazzle, then at Facebook, then Twitter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the venture firm Greylock brought Elman into the fold in 2011 as a principal, and by 2013, he was a general partner, investing in social networking deals throughout like Musical.ly (Bytedance acquired the company and turned it into TikTok); Nextdoor (which is reportedly eyeing ways to go public); Houseparty (acquired by Epic Games last year); and Discord (which is sewing up a private funding deal at a valuation of roughly $7 billion).

Somewhat unexpectedly, in 2018, Elman left his full-time role with Greylock to join a company notably not in the firm’s its portfolio, the stock-trading platform Robinhood. As interesting, though he took on the role of VP of product at the popular and fast-growing startup, he didn’t cut ties with Greylock entirely, taking on the title of venture partner and remaining on as a board member to his companies.

Asked about the move, Elman told TC at the time that he had “started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company.”

Ultimately, the role didn’t last long, with Elman leaving last November after less than two years on the job. Now Elman — who said he’s stepping away from some of his Greylock-related board seats —  has a new chance to do what he loves most that from one of the most powerful perches in the world, the App Store.

“I’m really excited to get to build ways to help over a billion customers and millions of developers connect,” he tweeted earlier. He added in the same thread: “I recently found my college resume. My career objective was ‘To create great technology that changes people’s lives’. Still at it :)”

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight.  The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told me.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised over $187 million, according to Pitchbook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per Pitchbook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.

Infogrid raises $15.5M from Northzone to retrofit buildings with ‘smart’ IoT

Infogrid, an IoT startup which can retrofit an existing building to make it ‘smart’, has raised $15.5 million. The Series A funding round was led by Northzone with participation from JLL Spark, Concrete VC, The Venture Collective, Jigsaw VC, an unarmed real estate investment group, and an unnamed large international asset owner, although one report speculated that it is Starwood Capital, the property-focused investor.

Infogrid’s platform combines IoT sensors with proprietary AI analysis and has had some success re-vamping facilities management (FM) for some of the world’s largest FM providers, such as global banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, and the NHS. Infogrid also has an ‘impact-style’ mission to enable businesses to reduce the environmental and social cost of their buildings while simultaneously benefitting their bottom line and asset values.

Infogrid’s system can detect when refrigerated products are being kept outside the required temperature range, measure air quality and check for virus risk indicators such as legionnaires’ disease in water pipes.

William Cowell de Gruchy, founder/CEO and a former British Army officer, said in a statement: “Until now, the lack of viable and scalable technology has meant that facilities management is one of the last industries to be enhanced by digitization, despite covering the world’s largest asset class. Infogrid’s end-to-end smart building system finally arms organizations with insight to take control and take action. This new era of insight and automation will bring about a positive impact on the efficiencies of businesses, the wellbeing of employees, and the environmental footprint of buildings.”

Jeppe Zink, Partner at Northzone added: “With the world undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, the built environment already generates 39% of annual global carbon emissions. We were instantly drawn to Infogrid for its ability to future-proof buildings in the long-term.”

Union Labs believes uniting VC and corporate expertise can help startups solve “hard tech” problems

Chris Kim and Nate Williams formed Union Labs with the conviction that investors and companies aren’t collaborating closely enough to ensure the success of the startups they back.

Kim is the former co-founder and chief technology officer at the automatic lock company August. He first met Williams when the company was attempting to create a consortium of stakeholders for the Internet of Things market.

Nate loved the go-to-market side when he came on board. He led the charge for us getting into retail,” Kim said. 

Later, when August was acquired in 2017, the two men continued to work together after Williams took a role as an entrepreneur in residence at Kleiner Perkins. Kim would assist in due diligence as the two continued to refine the thesis that they’d worked on at August — that uniting stakeholders was a critical component of success for new technology companies.

That thesis became the organizing principle for their Union Labs fund, which has raised $29 million of a targeted $50 million fund. 

“We’re starting to see this bifurcation between really, really hard deep tech firms versus other firms that might [have] one out of five of their deals being deep tech. Chris and I saw a lane for ‘applied’ deeptech,” said Williams.

This lane runs through the early-stage technology firms that need guidance from operators at hardware companies rather than the software-as-a-service experts that Williams and Kim said populate most venture capital firms. “Educating a SaaS partnership about ‘hard tech’ is super hard,” said Williams.

In addition to Williams and Kim, Union Labs has two directors: Thomas Lee, who spent years working at Enphase Energy, and Annie Le, a former chief operating officer at Pryze.

One example of the kinds of startups that the new Union Labs fund is hoping to back is Strella Biotechnology, a company that has developed sensors to monitor the ethylene gas emitted by produce to determine the freshness of fruits and vegetables.

Union Labs is targeting 20 investments with the first fund, including 15 direct investments and another three-to-five companies that it intends to incubate.

The other public investments in the company’s portfolio include the car rental optimization service Carnect and a toolkit for home safety called Encircle Labs (that’s not revealing too much about its business).

A fourth portfolio company, that has yet to publicly reveal its services, is working on solving problems in field service management related to training.

While these issues have presented challenges for industry, with the exception of the sensor business, none of them could be considered “hard tech” from a hardware perspective… and indeed, many of them resemble the software-as-a-service businesses that many firms are writing checks to support.

For its part, Union Labs is writing pre-seed and seed-stage checks with an average size of $890,000 for an 11% ownership stake. Williams says the firm will invest anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

For startups, one selling point for the firm is the connection it still maintains with the Internet of Things consortium Williams helped to establish for August Homes. Through the consortium Williams has been able to pull together corporate backers in telecommunications, utilities, consumer electronics and insurance, along with Kleiner Perkins and GV (which Williams said are investors).

“One of the things we’ve seen is the rise of corporate venture capital firms,” said Williams. And both Kim and Williams want their firm to act as a hybrid, between corporate venture capital and a traditional venture firm. 

Time will tell if they can turn their mission into something more than a marketing message.

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win

Like many of us during COVID-19, I’ve found myself watching a bit more TV than I’m typically accustomed to. My latest binge? “The Karate Kid” series continuation “Cobra Kai” on Netflix.

A long-time fan of “The Karate Kid,” I find my style’s a bit more Miyagi-Do, but, in reflecting upon my last few years as a founding GP at a young VC firm, I see some parallels between what it takes to win as an emerging manager and the mantras by which the Cobra Kai school abides.

Before diving into that, let me quickly set the stage for what the competitive landscape looks like for emerging managers these days. I’ll focus primarily on the seed landscape here, but the Cobra Kai framework applies just as readily to later stage funds as well.

Leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the venture industry saw a record number of dollars raised by seed funds less than $100 million in size. As is the case across stages however, there has been a notable decline in seed volume in the wake of COVID-19.

US fundraising activity for sub $100M seed rounds

U.S. fundraising activity for sub-$100M seed rounds. Data source: PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. Image Credits: Fika Ventures

The opposing dynamics of a contraction in deal volume and an unprecedented amount of readily available investable capital has led to a tremendous amount of competition for the highest-quality deals. This flight to quality can be clearly seen in the rise of seed valuations in the upper quartile compared to the decline in other cohorts. Amid a backdrop of COVID chaos, upper quartile valuations have hit an all-time high.

angel/seed pre-money valuations by quartile

Angel/seed pre-money valuations by quartile. Data source: PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. Image Credits: Fika Ventures

Due to their smaller fund size and prescriptive portfolio construction mandates, emerging managers have little leeway in terms of the valuations at which they can invest — their ownership requirements and check size limits impose a hard ceiling to which their investors hold them strictly accountable.

If budging on valuation is not a viable tactic to compete against established firms — which, in addition to their ability to be less price sensitive also boast more recognizable brand names, larger teams and higher AUM that affords them higher budgets for platform resources — how can emerging managers win? Enter Cobra Kai.

Strike first

Let’s face it. As an emerging manager, the chances of you winning a deal once the established players start to circle drops precipitously. In order to win, you need to have a first-mover advantage.

On a practical level, there are two windows of opportunity to achieve this: