Virgin Galactic gets grounded, Alibaba falls in line, and the latest, strangest NFT crazes

September 2, 2021
 
Thursday! Just a quick reminder that we are transitioning to a new email service provider next week, a dicey but hopefully also rewarding endeavor. Do reach out to us if you notice anything weird (weirder than usual) in terms of formatting/delivery, etc. The idea is so this to be relatively seamless, but you know what they say about hoping for the best yet planning for the worst etc etc.:)
Top News
 
Virgin Galactic’s Unity space vessel deviated from the flight path it agreed to follow as it came back to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico in July; now aviation regulators are investigating whether that shift could potentially affect public safety and grounding the company's flights until further notice.
 
Alibaba Group has become the latest big Chinese company to take up Beijing’s drive for what it calls “common prosperity” by committing to invest the equivalent of $15.5 billion in fostering social equality. The WSJ reports that companies have quickly adopted the newly popular slogan in an effort to assuage President Xi Jinping’s government amid its corporate crackdown. 
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For VCs Right Now, a Game of Musical Chairs
In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a venture capitalist. Nearly everyone in the industry is raking in money, either through long-awaited exits or because more capital flooding into the industry has meant more money in management fees  -- and sometimes both.
 
Still, a growing number of early-stage investors is becoming wary about the pace of dealmaking. It's not just that it's a lot harder to write checks at what feels like a reasonable clip at the moment, or that most VCs feel they can no longer afford to be price sensitive. Many of the founders with whom they work are being handed follow-on checks before figuring out how best to deploy their last round of funding.
 
Consider that from 2016 through 2019, an average of 35 deals a month featured rounds of $100 million or more, according to the data company CB Insights. This year, we're seeing nearly four times that number each month. The froth is hardly contained to maturing companies. According to CB Insights's data, the median U.S. Series A valuation hit $42 million in the second quarter, driven in part crossover investors like Tiger Global, which closed 1.26 deals per business day in Q2. (Andreessen Horowitz wasn't far behind.)
 
It makes for some bewildering times, including for longtime investor Jeff Clavier, the founder the early-stage venture firm Uncork Capital. Like many of his peers, Clavier is benefiting from the booming market. Among Uncork's portfolio companies, for example is LaunchDarkly, a company that helps software developers avoid missteps. The seven-year-old company announced $200 million in Series D funding last month at a $3 billion valuation. That's triple the valuation it was assigned early last year.
 
"It's an awesome company, so I'm very excited for them," says Clavier.
 
At the same time, he adds, "You have to put this money to work in a very smart way."
 
That's not so easy in this market.
 
Massive Fundings
 
Botify, a nine-year-old, New York-based maker of search engine optimization tools and apps, has raised $55 million in Series C funding led by InfraVia Growth. Other participants in the round include Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund and earlier backers Eurazeo and Ventech. TechCrunch has more here.
 
HomeLight, a nine-year-old, San Francisco-based real estate tech platform that matches buyers with agents, as well as provides title and escrow services to agents and home sellers, has raised $363 million. Zeev Ventures, which has participated in two previous rounds, was the deal lead; other earlier backers also participated, including Group 11, Stereo Capital, Menlo Ventures, and investor Lydia Jett of SoftBank Vision Fund. The company has now raised $530 million altogether and is valued at $1.6 billion. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Insurify, an eight-year-old,  Cambridge, Ma.-based virtual agent for insurance shopping, has raised $100 million in Series B funding. Motive Partners led the round, joined by a mix of new and earlier backers, including Viola FinTech, MassMutual Ventures, Nationwide, Hearst Ventures, Moneta VC, Viola Growth, and Fort Ross Ventures. The company has now raised $128 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Jeeves, a 2.5-year-old, Austin, Tex.-based “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, has raised $57 million in Series B funding at a $500 million valuation. CRV led the round, which also included participation from Tencent, Silicon Valley Bank, Alkeon Capital Management, Soros Fund Management, Mantis Venture Capital, and a high-profile group of angel investors, including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The company has now raised roughly $90 million in equity funding altogether; in June, it also secured $100 million in debt funding. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Panorama Education, a nine-year-old, Boston-based company that makes K-12 education software, has raised $60 million in Series C funding led by General Atlantic. Earlier backers Owl Ventures, Emerson Collective, Uncork Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Tao Capital Partners also joined the round, which brings the company's total funding to date to $105 million. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings
 
Cajoo, an eight-month-old, Paris, France-based grocery delivery startup, raised $40 million from investors,  including supermarket giant Carrefour. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Callin, a new, San Francisco-based live-audio, podcasting-focused startup cofounded by entrepreneur David Sacks, has raised $12 million in funding from Sacks's firm Craft Ventures, along with Sequoia Capital and Goldcrest Capital. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Carbon Robotics, a three-year-old, Seattle-based company that makes self-driving weed-zapping machines, just raised $27 million in funding from Anthos Capital, Ignition Capital, Fuse Venture Partners, and Voyager Capital. The company is led by Isilon Systems co-founder Paul Mikesell, who sold Isilon for $2.25 billion in 2010 and later spent time at both Uber and Facebook. GeekWire has more here
 
Class 101, a six-year-old, Seoul-based online education platform focused on a variety of verticals, including illustration, digital drawing, music production, and crafts, has raised $25.8 million in Series B funding. Goodwater Capital led the round, joined by earlier backers Strong Ventures, KT Investment, Mirae Asset Capital and Klim Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Onkos Surgical, ​​a seven-year-old, Parsippany, N.J.-based musculoskeletal oncology company, has raised $15 million in Series C funding from its existing investor syndicate, including 1315 Capital. More here.

Pixalate, a nine-year-old,  Palo Alto, Ca.-based fraud protection, privacy and compliance analytics platform that monitors connected television and mobile advertising, has raised $18.1 million in funding from Western Technology Investment and Javelin Venture Partners. The round brings the company's total funding to date to $22.7 million. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Point, a nearly three-year-old, Bay Area-based startup that says it's bringing rewards and benefits to debit cards, has raised $46.5 million in Series B funding led by earlier backer Valar Ventures. Other investors in the round include Breyer Capital, YC Continuity and Human Capital. Point has now raised $60 million in total. TechCrunch has more here.

Revenue Grid, a 15-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based revenue intelligence platform for sales teams, has raised $20 million in Series A funding. W3 Capital led the round, joined by ICU Ventures. VentureBeat has more here.
 
Solv, a 5.5-year-old, Bay Area-based maker of same-day and next-day appointment software for health care providers, has raised $45 million in Series C funding co-led by Acrew Capital and Corner Ventures, with participation from earlier backers Benchmark and Greylock. Axios has more here.
 
Stockeld Dreamery, a 2.5-year-old, Stockholm, Sweden-based startup making alternative-cheese products via a fermentation process that uses pea and fava bean protein, has raised $20 million in Series A funding co-led by Astanor Ventures and Northzone. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Sunday, a four-year-old, Bangkok, Thailand-based insurtech startup that says it handles it everything from underwriting to the distribution of its policies, has raised $45 million in Series B funding. Investors include Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Smaller Fundings
 
Responsibly, an eight-month-old, Copenhagen-based company with an environmental, social, and corporate governance scorecard to help its customers rate and adjust their supply chain partners, has raised $2 million in pre-seed funding. Flash Ventures led the round, joined by Pirate Impact. TechCrunch has more here.
 
Shepherd, a nine-month-old, San Francisco-based provider of insurance for commercial construction (the outfit says it's targeting companies doing $25 million to $250 million in projects per year), has raised $6.2 million in seed funding led by Spark Capital. Other investors in the round include Susa Ventures, Procure Technologies, Y Combinator, Greenlight Reinsurance, and Oldslip. TechCrunch has more here.

Sphere, a nine-month-old, Bay Area-based startup that's amplifying a social movement to get 401(k) money out of fossil fuel companies, has raised $2 million in funding led by the climate-focued venture firm Pale Blue Dot. TechCrunch has more here.
 
UXD Protocol, a digital currency company built on the blockchain platform Solana, has raised $3 million in seed funding from investors that include Multicoin Capital, Alameda Research, Defiance Capital, CMS Holdings and the Solana Foundation. Decrypt has more here.
 
Wanderlog, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based itinerary maker and road trip planner that enables users to import information from Google Maps and documents, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from General Catalyst and Abstract Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.
Going Public
 
Reddit, the online message boards platform that makes most of its revenue through advertising and became the go-to destination for day traders chasing this year's frenzy for so-called meme stocks, is seeking to hire investment bankers and lawyers for an IPO in New York, Reuters reported today. It's reportedly targeting a $15 billion valuation.
People
 
Angeli Agrawal has joined Boulder-based Foundry Group as an investor based in New York. Agrawal was previously a venture fellow with Rough Draft Ventures and had previously interned at Plug and Play Tech Center, been a summer associate at Kapor Capital, and worked part-time for Chingona Ventures. More here.
 
Shar Dubey, CEO of Match Group, said in an internal memo to staff today that she is creating a fund for Texas-based employees to "help cover the additional costs incurred" if they need to seek care outside of Texas due to the new abortion ban. In the memo, Dubey said the Texas law "is so regressive to the cause of women’s rights that I felt compelled to speak publicly." Axios has more here.
 
Bumble, based in Austin and managed by founder Whitney Wolfe Herde, said it was also creating a relief fund supporting people seeking abortions in the state. “Bumble is women-founded and women-led, and from day one we’ve stood up for the most vulnerable. We’ll keep fighting against regressive laws like #SB8,” the company said in a tweet
 
Elon Musk declined to weigh in directly on Texas’s abortion law after Governor Greg Abbott said the Tesla CEO supported his state’s “social policies.” “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” Musk told CNBC in a tweet. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics,” said Musk, whose companies and private foundation are both growing their operations in Texas. More here.
 
Billionaire John Paulson blasted crypto as a worthless bubble in a new interview with Carlyle Group cofounder David Rubenstein. Said Paulson: ""I wouldn't recommend anyone invest in cryptocurrencies. They're a bubble, a limited supply of nothing. There's no intrinsic value to any of the cryptocurrencies except that there's a limited amount. They will eventually prove to be worthless. Once the exuberance wears off or liquidity dries up, they will go to zero."
 
And in tech-people-who've-moved-to-Miami-news: venture capital investor Ben Ling of Bling Capital has reportedly just acquired an eight-bedroom, 11,000-square foot, $29.5 million waterfront mansion in Miami Beach, sources told The Real Deal. Ling had told us last year that Miami might be in the cards. More here.
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Data
 
More than six months after the SPAC craze crested, a broad selloff has wiped about $75 billion off the value of companies that came public through special-purpose acquisition companies, according to a Dow Jones Market Data analysis of figures from SPAC Research. The WSJ has the story here.
Essential Reads
 
Amazon is reportedly planning to roll out its own Amazon-branded TV as soon as October.
 
Voice chat comes to Roblox.
 
The latest NFT craze is among the strangest yet, centering on a randomly generated list of items ostensibly intended for players of a fantasy video game (though this is also pretty wild).
 
“This is the governor of the biggest state in the country, holding in his pocket Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat. This is the whole enchilada.”
Detours
 
The 26 most beautiful towns in America.
 
"Ted Lasso" actor Brett Goldstein bravely confirms he is a “normal human man."
Retail Therapy
 
Classic cars turned into personal watercraft.
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