How European seed firm Connect Ventures finds ‘product-first’ founders

Connect Ventures, the London-based seed-stage VC that was an early investor in Citymapper and Typeform announced a new $80 million fund last month to continue investing in “product-led” founders.

Launched back in 2012, when there was a shortage of institutional capital at seed stage in Europe and micro VC was a novelty in the region, Connect Ventures invests in B2B and consumer software across Europe, including SaaS, fintech, digital health and “future of work.”

Running throughout the firm’s investment thesis is a product focus, with the belief that product-led — or “product-first” — software entrepreneurs are the kinds of founders most likely to transform the way we live and work at scale.

Connect Ventures does fewer deals per year than many seed-stage firms, promising to place bets in a smaller number of early-stage companies. It recently backed scaling startups such as Curve and TrueLayer. Keeping a compact portfolio lets the shop throw more support behind its investments to help tip the scales toward success.

To learn more about Connect’s strategy going forward, I put questions to partners Sitar Teli, Pietro Bezza and Rory Stirling. We covered what makes a product-first founder, the upsides and downside of “conviction investing,” and the next digital product opportunities in fintech, health and the future of work.

TechCrunch: Connect Ventures positions itself as a pan-European VC investing in “product-led” founders at seed stage. Can you be more specific with regards to check size, geography and the types of startups you look for?

Sitar Teli: Of course, I know it can be hard to differentiate seed funds at first glance, so it’s worth digging in one layer down. Connect is a thesis-led, seed stage, product-centric fund that invests across Europe. I know we’re going to dive into some of those parts later, so I’ll focus on our investment strategy and what we look for. We lead seed rounds of £1-£2 million (sometimes less, sometimes more) and make 8-10 investments a year. Low volume, high conviction, high support is the investment strategy we’ve executed since we started eight years ago.

Quaestor is reinventing business metric collaboration for the startup party round era

Business is the foundation, of, well, business. For startups, finding a working business model and honing it through decision-making, smart hires, and relentless focus on the right metrics can be the difference between building a scalable company and collapsing into the next Luckin Coffee.

Given how important business performance and finance is, it’s not uncommon in the early days of a startup to hire an “outsourced CFO” — a part-time financial professional who helps with budgeting, basic forecasting, and preparing reports for investors. Those reports though are static, and don’t lead to great conversations around how a business is performing, how it can change, and what should happen next for all parties involved.

Quaestor wants to upend the static spreadsheets and PDFs sent to dozens if not hundreds of people on cap tables today with a software-first solution that allows executives and their investors to hold better, more intelligent conversations about business performance.

The idea for the company congealed in the offices of 8VC, where the firm’s partners like Joe Lonsdale and Alex Moore repeatedly watched companies struggling to present all of their business information to their investors in a time-efficient way. 8VC has a history of incubating projects just like Quaestor, such as CRM tool Affinity.

For Quaestor, the firm eventually brought together a trio of co-founders, with Lonsdale also officially co-founding the company. John Melas-Kyriazi is CEO, and formerly was with Spark Capital for five years as a VC. He left earlier this year, and is maintaining his board seats there. Kevin Hsu is head of product and was a product manager at cap table management startup Carta before joining 8VC as an EIR. Finally, Deny Khoung is head of operations and was formerly the director of design at 8VC.

The group has been riffing on the idea of improving collaboration around the fundamentals of startup metrics for months, but officially spun out of 8VC in March and raised $5.8 million led by 8VC with participation from Melas-Kyriazi’s former firm Spark as well as Abstract Ventures, Riot Ventures, Fathom Ventures and GFC.

Let’s head back to the product though. Quaestor connects founders, company executives, and investors all together to discuss a business and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding targets and metrics. “How do VCs and their companies interact around financial data, whether it’s documents like P&L / balance sheet / cash flow statement [or] individual financial KPIs like revenue, gross margin, net income, ARR, etc.,” Melas-Kyriazi explained. “How do companies share that information with their investors to keep them updated? How do investors support their companies in understanding what goals they should be setting?”

The goal with the platform is two-fold. One is to ingest financial data and automatically prepare it so that all those annoying Excel mistakes disappear and everyone can read from one consistent set of metrics. The other is to help guide everyone to focus on the metrics that matter. “Most entrepreneurs come from a product background or engineering or sales and they might not necessarily have worked in in finance before,” Melas-Kyriazi said. The goal with Quaestor is to help push them to think carefully about their finances.

Over time as cap tables get more complicated and more investors add their capital, the goal is that Quaestor can offer a single source of truth for all financial data, without requiring the CEO or an outsourced CFO to prepare individual reports for each firm.

Right now, the company is focusing its product on early-stage startups, but hopes to grow up with those companies as they scale, expanding its services to other types of companies over time. The company’s product has been in beta as it tests out its MVP.

Quaestor is now a team of eight, with several offer letters in motion (so that number is actively growing as I write this article). Melas-Kyriazi said that product development and early scaling are the key goals for the startup over the next year or two.

Here’s a list of tech companies that the SBA says took PPP money

The U.S. Treasury Department released Monday a highly anticipated trove of data identifying every company that has received a loan of more than $150,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — a list that includes some of the hottest names in the tech startup world, including Bolt Mobility, Getaround, Luminar, Stackin, TuSimple, and Velodyne.

The data, which lists the names of companies that received small business loans over $150,000, was the result of a push for greater transparency around the loans. The list also provides the number of jobs that each company said it plans to retain as a result of the funds.

The PPP loans became available to help prop up companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted local and state governments to issue stay-at-home orders and close non-essential businesses.

As illuminating as this data is, it may contain inaccurate data. Both Bird and Index Ventures have issued statements that counter information provided by the federal government.

“Bird was erroneously listed as a company that filed for a PPP Loan,” according to an emailed statement from Bird. “We did not apply for nor did we receive a PPP Loan. We decided as a company not to file an application as we did not want to divert critical funding from small and local businesses.”

Bird CEO and founder Travis VandenZander tweeted Monday that Citi had started an application while it awaited the company’s decision on whether to formally apply. Bird told Citi it decided not to apply and the bank told the company the temporary application had been cancelled.

Index Ventures confirmed it has not applied for or received a loan.

Below is a list of tech startups and companies, including some venture firms that received money, either for themselves or on behalf of portfolio companies, from the program. The story is developing and we’re seeking to confirm the loans with companies. We will update throughout the day.

$150,000 to $350,000 range

  • Stackin, which connects millennials to fintech startups, plans to retain 33 jobs. This loan is notable because the fintech company raised a $12.6 million Series B financing in May, is listed in the loan data. CEO Scott Grimes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

$350,000 to $1 million range

  • Bolt Mobility, a city micromobility upstart, plans to retain 27 jobs

$2 to $5 million range

$5 to $10 million loan range

  • Getaround, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, plans to save 12 jobs
  • Luminar, a lidar sensor company, plans to retain 7 jobs
  • Velodyne, a lidar sensor company, plans to save 19 jobs

Developing …

Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma to acquire Raheja QBE for $76M

Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, and its co-founder and chief executive, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, announced on Monday they have reached an agreement to acquire general insurer Raheja QBE for a sum of $76 million as the financial services startup looks to tap the nation’s booming insurance market.

Sharma is acquiring Raheja QBE through QorQl Pvt. Ltd, a firm in which he owns majority stake with Paytm owning the remainder. Raheja QBE, which offers insurance services to cover an individual’s health, home, vehicles, as well as commercial properties, and workplace injuries, is owned by Prism Johnson (51%) and QBE Australia (49%.) QorQl is acquiring 100% of Raheja QBE as part of the agreement, the two entities said.

Paytm, whose services are used by tens of millions of Indians each month, said the acquisition will help it “democratize general insurance services” in the country.

Raheja QBE’s “strong management team will help us accelerate our journey of taking insurance to the large population of India with the aim to create a tech-driven, multi-channel general insurance company with innovative and affordable insurance products,” said Amit Nayyar, President of Paytm, in a statement.

More to follow…

Lydia expands credit offering in partnership with Younited Credit

French startup Lydia is announcing a new partnership with Younited Credit, which lets you borrow anything between €500 and €3,000 and pay back within 6 to 36 months. The feature will be released in France at some point during the summer.

This isn’t the first time Lydia is playing around with credit. The company already partnered with Banque Casino to let users borrow between €100 and €1,000. But that feature was limited to short-term credit as you had to reimburse everything over three installments.

This time, you can borrow more money and you have more time to pay back your loan. Lydia will try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to interests. And there’s no fee in case or early repayment.

Compared to the first credit product, you can’t borrow money instantly. You apply for a loan in the app and get an answer within 24 hours. If you accept the offer, you have seven days to change your mind — it’s a regulatory requirement in France. You then receive money on your account.

By offering two different credit products, Lydia wants to cover more use cases. If something unexpected happens (your laptop broke down, you have to book an emergency flight, etc.), you can borrow as much as €1,000 in just a few seconds.

You receive the money on your Lydia account and you can start using it instantly using a virtual card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Lydia’s debit cards or Lydia’s peer-to-peer payments.

Fees on instant credit lines are pretty high as you pay 3.13% in interests and a one-time fee of €6.90 to €19.90 to receive the money instantly depending on how much you borrow.

If you’re planning a big purchase but you can wait a week, you can go through the new credit offering with Younited Credit . This isn’t the first time Younited Credit offers an integrated credit product with another fintech startup. For instance, N26 also offers credit lines with Younited Credit in France.

Lydia started as a peer-to-peer payment app with 3.5 million users in Europe. It recently raised a $45 million funding round led by Tencent. The startup now wants to build a marketplace of financial products. And integrating Younited Credit in the app seems in line with that strategy.

Lydia expands credit offering in partnership with Younited Credit

French startup Lydia is announcing a new partnership with Younited Credit, which lets you borrow anything between €500 and €3,000 and pay back within 6 to 36 months. The feature will be released in France at some point during the summer.

This isn’t the first time Lydia is playing around with credit. The company already partnered with Banque Casino to let users borrow between €100 and €1,000. But that feature was limited to short-term credit as you had to reimburse everything over three installments.

This time, you can borrow more money and you have more time to pay back your loan. Lydia will try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to interests. And there’s no fee in case or early repayment.

Compared to the first credit product, you can’t borrow money instantly. You apply for a loan in the app and get an answer within 24 hours. If you accept the offer, you have seven days to change your mind — it’s a regulatory requirement in France. You then receive money on your account.

By offering two different credit products, Lydia wants to cover more use cases. If something unexpected happens (your laptop broke down, you have to book an emergency flight, etc.), you can borrow as much as €1,000 in just a few seconds.

You receive the money on your Lydia account and you can start using it instantly using a virtual card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Lydia’s debit cards or Lydia’s peer-to-peer payments.

Fees on instant credit lines are pretty high as you pay 3.13% in interests and a one-time fee of €6.90 to €19.90 to receive the money instantly depending on how much you borrow.

If you’re planning a big purchase but you can wait a week, you can go through the new credit offering with Younited Credit . This isn’t the first time Younited Credit offers an integrated credit product with another fintech startup. For instance, N26 also offers credit lines with Younited Credit in France.

Lydia started as a peer-to-peer payment app with 3.5 million users in Europe. It recently raised a $45 million funding round led by Tencent. The startup now wants to build a marketplace of financial products. And integrating Younited Credit in the app seems in line with that strategy.

Unpacking how Dell’s debt load and VMware stake could come together

Last week, we discussed the possibility that Dell could be exploring a sale of VMware as a way to deal with its hefty debt load, a weight that continues to linger since its $67 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016. VMware was the most valuable asset in the EMC family of companies, and it remains central to Dell’s hybrid cloud strategy today.

As CNBC pointed out last week, VMware is a far more valuable company than Dell itself, with a market cap of almost $62 billion. Dell, on the other hand, has a market cap of around $39 billion.

How is Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, worth less than the company it controls? We believe it’s related to that debt, and if we’re right, Dell could unlock lots of its own value by reducing its indebtedness. In that light, the sale, partial or otherwise, of VMware starts to look like a no-brainer from a financial perspective.

At the end of its most recent quarter, Dell had $8.4 billion in short-term debt and long-term debts totaling $48.4 billion. That’s a lot, but Dell has the ability to pay down a significant portion of that by leveraging the value locked inside its stake in VMware.

Yes, but …

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. As Holger Mueller from Constellation Research pointed out in our article last week, VMware is the one piece of the Dell family that is really continuing to innovate. Meanwhile, Dell and EMC are stuck in hardware hell at a time when companies are moving faster than ever expected to the cloud due to the pandemic.

Dell is essentially being handicapped by a core business that involves selling computers, storage and the like to in-house data centers. While it’s also looking to modernize that approach by trying to be the hybrid link between on-premise and the cloud, the economy is also working against it. The pandemic has made the difficult prospect of large enterprise selling even more challenging without large conferences, golf outings and business lunches to grease the skids of commerce.

Insurtech unicorn Lemonade raises IPO range ahead of debut

Ahead of its expected IPO pricing later today, SoftBank -backed insurtech startup Lemonade has raised its expected price range. After initially targeting $23 to $26 per share in its debut, Lemonade now intends to sell its equity for $26 to $28 per share.


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The new range boosts Lemonade’s expected value, a boon for insurtech startups like Root, Kin, MetroMile, Hippo and others. Had Lemonade been forced to reduce its pricing, the valuations of its contemporaries could have come under pressure when they went to raise more capital. But with Lemonade noting that the market will bear a higher price for its equity, it’s a good day for startups looking to rebuild insurance products in a digital-first manner.

This morning, let’s work out the Lemonade’s new valuation range, compare it to the company’s final private valuation and figure out if we can understand why the stock market may support the company at its new price. After that, we’ll share a few notes from folks about the IPO and how they think it might go, just for fun.

Upward

Lemonade intends on selling 11 million shares as before, so the company is not targeting a larger bloc of shares to disburse. At its new price range, Lemonade will sell shares worth between $286 million and $308 million, a few dozen million more at the top end of its new range than it had anticipated with its first IPO pricing interval ($253 million and $286 million).

The company has two valuation ranges: one without the 1.65 million shares its underwriters may purchase at its IPO price if they choose, and one including those shares. Without the extra equity, Lemonade is aiming at a $1.43 billion to $1.54 billion valuation; including the extra equity, Lemonade is worth $1.47 billion to $1.58 billion.

Point launches new challenger bank with rewards on debit card purchases

Meet Point, a new challenger bank in the U.S. that has been available as a private beta for the past year. Today, the company is launching a major new version of its service and opening its doors to everyone. But you’ll have to get an invite to get in at first.

Point is a consumer banking app combined with a debit card. The company wants to reproduce the experience of credit cards but with debit cards thanks to rewards and a point-based system. There’s no credit check when you sign up.

The startup raised a $10.5 million Series A funding round led by Valar Ventures with Y Combinator, Kindred Ventures, Finventure Studio and business angels also participating. Valar Ventures has backed several high-profile fintech startups, such as N26, TransferWise and Stash.

As a user, you get many features you’d expect from a challenger bank. The debit card is tightly integrated with the app, which means that you can receive notifications every time you make a transaction and manage your card from the app. You don’t pay any foreign transaction fees for international transactions — the company uses Mastercard’s exchange rate for those transactions.

In addition to your physical Point card, you can access a virtual card from the app. Point has partnered with Evolve Bank & Trust for the banking infrastructure, an FDIC-insured bank.

When it comes to points, every transaction lets you earn points. For each $0.01 spent, you get one point. You get 2X points on groceries and dining and 5X points on subscriptions, such as Spotify and Netflix. It then works like a cashback system. You can redeem points for dollars and they’ll appear on your checking account.

The company uses Plaid to link your Point account with a third-party bank account. You can then move money from your existing account to your Point account. You can also top up your account with payment apps, such as Venmo, Cash App and PayPal.

Points’ biggest competitor is probably Chime, the challenger bank that has attracted 8 million customers. Chime doesn’t currently offer rewards. Let’s see if Point can convince customers who have yet to try out a challenger bank that Point is a better option.

Image Credits: Point

After grinding investigation, Luckin Coffee confirms $300 million revenue fraud

Luckin Coffee’s drips and drops of news the past few weeks — including a boardroom feud that is pitting the company’s chairman against a special investigation committee looking into an alleged massive fraud — is now turning into a flood.

In a new SEC filing this morning, the company’s Special Committee, which was tasked with investigating claims that the one-time China-based coffee darling overstated its revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars, has returned with its verdict. And the verdict is that the company did indeed inflate revenues by nearly $300 million.

In its filing, the company said “In the course of the Internal Investigation, the Special Committee and its advisors reviewed over 550,000 documents collected from over 60 custodians, interviewed over 60 witnesses, and performed extensive forensic accounting and data analytics testing.”

What it found is that starting around April 2019, or roughly contemporaneous with the IPO of the company on Nasdaq, the company began inflating revenues. According to the company’s analysis, revenues were overstated by $35 million in Q2, $99 million in Q3, and almost $166 million in Q4, in present day U.S. dollars.

The fraud was first discovered by unknown private investigators in a report that was later circulated online by the short-seller Muddy Waters in January of this year. That short-seller report eventually led the company to begin an investigation roughly three months ago, which led to today’s conclusions.

The filing further stated that “Following the Special Committee’s recommendations, the Board terminated its former Chief Executive Officer and former Chief Operating Officer based on evidence demonstrating their participation in the fabricated transactions.” That news was released a few weeks ago.

Now, this is where things get interesting because this week, the boardroom feud is spilling out into the open. There are competing proposals on who will run Luckin going forward, with the chairman of the board attempting to fire the board’s Special Committee, while the rest of the board is trying to fire the chairman. Yes, it’s complicated, but the vote is happening this week, with the firing of the chairman for July 2, and the firing of the rest of the board in a shareholders meeting on July 5.

We’ll be following those developments closely, but I will say this: whoever read 550,000 pages of evidence in roughly three months deserves … at least $300 million in Luckin Coffee free coupons. I’d even say it’s even grounds for a permanent and free coffee subscription. Let’s just hope the board spills even more beans on what is going on here. (Okay, I am going to stop now).