How students are founding, funding and joining startups

Shawn Xu Contributor Share on Twitter Shawn Xu is a managing partner at The Dorm Room Fund. There has never been a better time to start, join, or fund a startup as a student.  Young founders who want to start companies while still in school have an increasing number of resources to tap into that […]

There has never been a better time to start, join, or fund a startup as a student. 

Young founders who want to start companies while still in school have an increasing number of resources to tap into that exist just for them. Students that want to learn how to build companies can apply to an increasing number of fast-track programs that allow them to gain valuable early stage operating experience. The energy around student entrepreneurship today is incredible. I’ve been immersed in this community as an investor and adviser for some time now, and to say the least, I’m continually blown away by what the next generation of innovators are dreaming up (from Analytical Space’s global data relay service for satellites to Brooklinen’s reinvention of the luxury bed).

Bill Gates in 1973

First, let’s look at student founders and why they’re important. Student entrepreneurs have long been an important foundation of the startup ecosystem. Many students wrestle with how best to learn while in school —some students learn best through lectures, while more entrepreneurial students like author Julian Docks find it best to leave the classroom altogether and build a business instead.

Indeed, some of our most iconic founders are Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, both student entrepreneurs who launched their startups at Harvard and then dropped out to build their companies into major tech giants. A sample of the current generation of marquee companies founded on college campuses include Snap at Stanford ($29B valuation at IPO), Warby Parker at Wharton (~$2B valuation), Rent The Runway at HBS (~$1B valuation), and Brex at Stanford (~$1B valuation).

Some of today’s most celebrated tech leaders built their first ventures while in school — even if some student startups fail, the critical first-time founder experience is an invaluable education in how to build great companies. Perhaps the best example of this that I could find is Drew Houston at Dropbox (~$9B valuation at IPO), who previously founded an edtech startup at MIT that, in his words, provided a: “great introduction to the wild world of starting companies.”

Student founders are everywhere, but the highest concentration of venture-backed student founders can be found at just 5 universities. Based on venture fund portfolio data from the last six years, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UPenn, and UC Berkeley have produced the highest number of student-founded companies that went on to raise $1 million or more in seed capital. Some prospective students will even enroll in a university specifically for its reputation of churning out great entrepreneurs. This is not to say that great companies are not being built out of other universities, nor does it mean students can’t find resources outside a select number of schools. As you can see later in this essay, there are number of new ways students all around the country can tap into the startup ecosystem. For further reading, Pitchbook produces an excellent report each year that tracks where all entrepreneurs earned their undergraduate degrees.

Student founders have a number of new media resources to turn to. New email newsletters focused on student entrepreneurship like Justine and Olivia Moore’s Accelerated and Kyle Robertson’s StartU offer new channels for young founders to reach large audiences. Justine and Olivia, the minds behind Accelerated, have a lot of street cred— they launched Stanford’s on-campus incubator Cardinal Ventures before landing as investors at CRV.

StartU goes above and beyond to be a resource to founders they profile by helping to connect them with investors (they’re active at 12 universities), and run a podcast hosted by their Editor-in-Chief Johnny Hammond that is top notch. My bet is that traditional media will point a larger spotlight at student entrepreneurship going forward.

New pools of capital are also available that are specifically for student founders. There are four categories that I call special attention to:

  • University-affiliated accelerator programs
  • University-affiliated angel networks
  • Professional venture funds investing at specific universities
  • Professional venture funds investing through student scouts

While it is difficult to estimate exactly how much capital has been deployed by each, there is no denying that there has been an explosion in the number of programs that address the pre-seed phase. A sample of the programs available at the Top 5 universities listed above are in the graphic below — listing every resource at every university would be difficult as there are so many.

One alumni-centric fund to highlight is the Alumni Ventures Group, which pools LP capital from alumni at specific universities, then launches individual venture funds that invest in founders connected to those universities (e.g. students, alumni, professors, etc.). Through this model, they’ve deployed more than $200M per year! Another highlight has been student scout programs — which vary in the degree of autonomy and capital invested — but essentially empower students to identify and fund high-potential student-founded companies for their parent venture funds. On campuses with a large concentration of student founders, it is not uncommon to find student scouts from as many as 12 different venture funds actively sourcing deals (as is made clear from David Tao’s analysis at UC Berkeley).

Investment Team at Rough Draft Ventures

In my opinion, the two institutions that have the most expansive line of sight into the student entrepreneurship landscape are First Round’s Dorm Room Fund and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft VenturesSince 2012, these two funds have operated a nationwide network of student scouts that have invested $20K — $25K checks into companies founded by student entrepreneurs at 40+ universities. “Scout” is a loose term and doesn’t do it justice — the student investors at these two funds are almost entirely autonomous, have built their own platform services to support portfolio companies, and have launched programs to incubate companies built by female founders and founders of color. Another student-run fund worth noting that has reach beyond a single region is Contrary Capital, which raised $2.2M last year. They do a particularly great job of reaching founders at a diverse set of schools — their network of student scouts are active at 45 universities and have spoken with 3,000 founders per year since getting started. Contrary is also testing out what they describe as a “YC for university-based founders”. In their first cohort, 100% of their companies raised a pre-seed round after Contrary’s demo day. Another even more recently launched organization is The MBA Fund, which caters to founders from the business schools at Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford. While super exciting, these two funds only launched very recently and manage portfolios that are not large enough for analysis just yet.

Over the last few months, I’ve collected and cross-referenced publicly available data from both Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures to assess the state of student entrepreneurship in the United States. Companies were pulled from each fund’s portfolio page, then checked against Crunchbase for amount raised, accelerator participation, and other metrics. If you’d like to sift through the data yourself, feel free to ping me — my email can be found at the end of this article. To be clear, this does not represent the full scope of investment activity at either fund — many companies in the portfolios of both funds remain confidential and unlisted for good reasons (e.g. startups working in stealth). In fact, the In addition, data for early stage companies is notoriously variable in quality, even with Crunchbase. You should read these insights as directional only, given the debatable confidence interval. Still, the data is still interesting and give good indicators for the health of student entrepreneurship today.

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures have invested in 230+ student-founded companies that have gone on to raise nearly $1 billion in follow on capital. These funds have invested in a diverse range of companies, from govtech (e.g. mark43, raised $77M+ and FiscalNote, raised $50M+) to space tech (e.g. Capella Space, raised ~$34M). Several portfolio companies have had successful exits, such as crypto startup Distributed Systems (acquired by Coinbase) and social networking startup tbh (acquired by Facebook). While it is too early to evaluate the success of these funds on a returns basis (both were launched just 6 years ago), we can get a sense of success by evaluating the rates by which portfolio companies raise additional capital. Taken together, 34% of DRF and RDV companies in our data set have raised $1 million or more in seed capital. For a rough comparison, CB Insights cites that 40% of YC companies and 48% of Techstars companies successfully raise follow on capital (defined as anything above $750K). Certainly within the ballpark!

Source: Crunchbase

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures companies in our data set have an 11–12% rate of survivorship to Series A. As a benchmark, a previous partner at Y Combinator shared that 20% of their accelerator companies raise Series A capital (YC declined to share the official figure, but it’s likely a stat that is increasing given their new Series A support programs. For further reading, check out YC’s reflection on what they’ve learned about helping their companies raise Series A funding). In any case, DRF and RDV’s numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as the average age of their portfolio companies is very low and raising Series A rounds generally takes time. Ultimately, it is clear that DRF and RDV are active in the earlier (and riskier) phases of the startup journey.

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures send 18–25% of their portfolio companies to YCombinator or Techstars. Given YC’s 1.5% acceptance rate as reported in Fortune, this is quite significant! Internally, these two funds offer founders an opportunity to participate in mock interviews with YC and Techstars alumni, as well as tap into their communities for peer support (e.g. advice on pitch decks and application content). As a result, Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures regularly send cohorts of founders to these prestigious accelerator programs. Based on our data set, 17–20% of DRF and RDV companies that attend one of these accelerators end up raising Series A venture financing.

Source: Crunchbase

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures don’t invest in the same companies. When we take a deeper look at one specific ecosystem where these two funds have been equally active over the last several years — Boston — we actually see that the degree of investment overlap for companies that have raised $1M+ seed rounds sits at 26%. This suggests that these funds are either a) seeing different dealflow or b) have widely different investment decision-making.

Source: Crunchbase

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures should not just be measured by a returns-basis today, as it’s too early. I hypothesize that DRF and RDV are actually encouraging more entrepreneurial activity in the ecosystem (more students decide to start companies while in school) as well as improving long-term founder outcomes amongst students they touch (portfolio founders build bigger and more successful companies later in their careers). As more students start companies, there’s likely a positive feedback loop where there’s increasing peer pressure to start a company or lean on friends for founder support (e.g. feedback, advice, etc).Both of these subjects warrant additional study, but it’s likely too early to conduct these analyses today.

Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures have impressive alumni that you will want to track. 1 in 4 alumni partners are founders, and 29% of these founder alumni have raised $1M+ seed rounds for their companies. These include Anjney Midha’s augmented reality startup Ubiquity6 (raised $37M+), Shubham Goel’s investor-focused CRM startup Affinity (raised $13M+), Bruno Faviero’s AI security software startup Synapse (raised $6M+), Amanda Bradford’s dating app The League (raised $2M+), and Dillon Chen’s blockchain startup Commonwealth Labs (raised $1.7M). It makes sense to me that alumni from these communities that decide to start companies have an advantage over their peers — they know what good companies look like and they can tap into powerful networks of young talent / experienced investors.

Beyond Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures, some venture capital firms focus on incubation for student-founded startups. Credit should first be given to Lightspeed for producing the amazing Summer Fellows bootcamp experience for promising student founders — after all, Pinterest was built there! Jeremy Liew gives a good overview of the program through his sit-down interview with Afterbox’s Zack Banack. Based on a study they conducted last year, 40% of Lightspeed Summer Fellows alumni are currently active founders. Pear Ventures also has an impressive summer incubator program where 85% of its companies successfully complete a fundraise. Index Ventures is the latest to build an incubator program for student founders, and even accepts founders who want to work on an idea part-time while completing a summer internship.

Let’s now look at students who want to join a startup before founding one. Venture funds have historically looked to tap students for talent, and are expanding the engagement lifecycle. The longest running programs include Kleiner Perkins’ class="m_1196721721246259147gmail-markup--strong m_1196721721246259147gmail-markup--p-strong"> KP Fellows and True Ventures’ TEC Fellows, which focus on placing the next generation’s most promising product managers, engineers, and designers into the portfolio companies of their parent venture funds.

There’s also the secretive Greylock X, a referral-based hand-picked group of the best student engineers in Silicon Valley (among their impressive alumni are founders like Yasyf Mohamedali and Joe Kahn, the folks behind First Round-backed Karuna Health). As these programs have matured, these firms have recognized the long-run value of engaging the alumni of their programs.

More and more alumni are “coming back” to the parent funds as entrepreneurs, like KP Fellow Dylan Field of Figma (and is also hosting a KP Fellow, closing a full circle loop!). Based on their latest data, 10% of KP Fellows alumni are founders — that’s a lot given the fact that their community has grown to 500! This helps explain why Kleiner Perkins has created a structured path to receive $100K in seed funding to companies founded by KP Fellow alumni. It looks like venture funds are beginning to invest in student programs as part of their larger platform strategy, which can have a real impact over the long term (for further reading, see this analysis of platform strategy outcomes by USV’s Bethany Crystal).

KP Fellows in San Francisco

Venture funds are doubling down on student talent engagement — in just the last 18 months, 4 funds have launched student programs. It’s encouraging to see new funds follow in the footsteps of First Round, General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, Greylock, and Lightspeed. In 2017, Accel launched their Accel Scholars program to engage top talent at UC Berkeley and Stanford. In 2018, we saw 8VC Fellows, NEA Next, and Floodgate Insiders all launch, targeting elite universities outside of Silicon Valley. Y Combinator implemented Early Decision, which allows student founders to apply one batch early to help with academic scheduling. Most recently, at the start of 2019, First Round launched the Graduate Fund (staffed by Dorm Room Fund alumni) to invest in founders who are recent graduates or young alumni.

Given more time, I’d love to study the rates by which student founders start another company following investments from student scout funds, as well as whether or not they’re more successful in those ventures. In any case, this is an escalation in the number of venture funds that have started to get serious about engaging students — both for talent and dealflow.

Student entrepreneurship 2.0 is here. There are more structured paths to success for students interested in starting or joining a startup. Founders have more opportunities to garner press, seek advice, raise capital, and more. Venture funds are increasingly leveraging students to help improve the three F’s — finding, funding, and fixing. In my personal view, I believe it is becoming more and more important for venture funds to gain mindshare amongst the next generation of founders and operators early, while still in school.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for student entrepreneurship in 2019. If you’re interested in digging in deeper (I’m human — I’m sure I haven’t covered everything related to student entrepreneurship here) or learning more about how you can start or join a startup while still in school, shoot me a note at sxu@dormroomfund.comA massive thanks to Phin Barnes, Rei Wang, Chauncey Hamilton, Peter Boyce, Natalie Bartlett, Denali Tietjen, Eric Tarczynski, Will Robbins, Jasmine Kriston, Alicia Lau, Johnny Hammond, Bruno Faviero, Athena Kan, Shohini Gupta, Alex Immerman, Albert Dong, Phillip Hua-Bon-Hoa, and Trevor Sookraj for your incredible encouragement, support, and insight during the writing of this essay.

Chinese e-commerce challenger Pinduoduo is raising over $1 billion more

The price of competing with e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com is immense. That’s evidenced by challenger Pinduoduo, commonly known as PDD, which is raising more than $1 billion in fresh capital just six months after it went public. The company announced plans to sell 37 million shares in a move that will raise over $1 billion, going […]

The price of competing with e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com is immense. That’s evidenced by challenger Pinduoduo, commonly known as PDD, which is raising more than $1 billion in fresh capital just six months after it went public.

The company announced plans to sell 37 million shares in a move that will raise over $1 billion, going potentially as high as $1.25 billion if underwriters exercise their full share purchase option. The secondary event will also see a number of existing backers sell a portion of their stock, those sellers including Sequoia China, Lightspeed China and Banyan, according to a filing.

PDD went public in July when it raised $1.6 billion through a Nasdaq listing.

Founded in September 2015 by ex-Googler Colin Huang, it adds a social twist to e-commerce by offering discounts for shoppers who gang up with friends or family to make group orders. That’s resonated in particular with consumers, who tend to be female, the company said. PDD claims 385.5 million active buyers with an annual GMV of RMB 344.8 billion, or $250.2 billion, as of Q3 2018.

That’s helped it make a dent in China’s e-commerce market, which is dominated by Tencent and Alibaba, although it has come at some cost. PDD isn’t profitable, and it isn’t likely to be for some time. Since going public, it has recorded net losses of RMB 6.49 billion ($981.4 million) in Q2 and RMB 1.10 billion ($159.9 million) in Q4.

Yes, there has been heady growth, revenue in Q4 surged by 697 percent year-on-year to reach RMB 3.37 billion ($491.0 million), but the corresponding operating loss increased five-fold.

Huang has described his business as a combination of Costco and Disney, which signifies “value-for-money and entertainment combined.” In a letter to shareholders, he emphasized that his vision will require a decade before it begins to reach its potential.

“It is not easy to take the leap of faith believing in such an unconventional company, which strives to meet both economic and social needs of users, and to make a positive impact to the society. The pursuit and focus of our long-term vision and intrinsic value may not always translate into near-term profits. Instead, we hope to show you the true colors of our company no matter how bumpy or rough the numbers may seem to be. We ask you to ride the journey with us for the long term. We believe it will be wonderful,” he wrote.

Lightspeed announces new $560 million fund for China

Global investor Lightspeed is starting 2019 with its largest-ever fund for China, where it has backed a number of new internet challengers. The firm announced this week that its fourth China fund has closed with a total capital commitment of $560 million. The firm had a massive 2018, with no fewer than five of its portfolio holding IPOs […]

Global investor Lightspeed is starting 2019 with its largest-ever fund for China, where it has backed a number of new internet challengers. The firm announced this week that its fourth China fund has closed with a total capital commitment of $560 million.

The firm had a massive 2018, with no fewer than five of its portfolio holding IPOs including two of China’s up-and-coming startups that are challenging the country’s internet establishment — they are Meituan, the super app firm that specializes in deliveries, and Pinduoduo, a group e-commerce company that is threatening Alibaba’s dominance.

Based on those successes, it is perhaps not a surprise that Lightspeed has pulled in a record new fund. TechCrunch previously reported that the new fund was aimed at $360 million based on filings, but it added more capital to give more options.

Lightspeed said it has $360 million for early-stage deals aimed at Series A and Series B stages, with an additional $200 million set aside for “growth investments.” The new fund dwarfs Lightspeed’s previous vehicles in China — the firm’s previous two China funds each closed at $260 million while it raised $168 million for its debut fund in the country in 2013.

Lightspeed Venture Partners is a well-known investor that is anchored in Silicon Valley with global funds in India, Israeli and — of course — China. Together, those funds manage around $6 billion in capital, according to the firm.

Led by partners Chris Schaepe, Herry Han and James Mi, the China operation has backed a range of unicorns, including the aforementioned Meituan, which raised over $4 billion via a Hong Kong IPO last year, and Pinduoduo, which raised $1.6 billion via a U.S. listing in 2018. Other Lightspeed China IPOs from last year were PPDai, Rong360 and InnoLight while the firm also counts $9 billion-valued Full Truck Alliance, real estate platform Fangdd and Airbnb-like Tujia, both of which are valued in the billions, among the more mature bets in its portfolio.

“We believe there are plenty of new opportunities in China consumer Internet given the depth of China’s mobile payment and social networks. Innovation and entrepreneurship in the next decade will bring more China-based startups to the world stage. This will be China’s first decade of truly global innovation. Chinese entrepreneurs are now developing business plans with global expansion in mind from day one,” said Han, one of the firm’s founding partners, in a statement.

Last year, Lightspeed Venture Partners — the U.S. entity — filed to raise a record $1.8 billion in new capital commitments. In December, it added five new partners to its consumer and enterprise investment teams, including Slack’s former head of growth and Twitter’s former vice president of global business development.

Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, banked a $3 billion profit in 2018

Epic Games had as good a year in 2018 as any company in tech. Fortnite became the world’s most popular game, growing the company’s valuation to $15 billion but it has helped the company pile up cash, too. Epic grossed a $3 billion profit for this year fuelled by the continued success of Fortnite, a […]

Epic Games had as good a year in 2018 as any company in tech. Fortnite became the world’s most popular game, growing the company’s valuation to $15 billion but it has helped the company pile up cash, too. Epic grossed a $3 billion profit for this year fuelled by the continued success of Fortnite, a source with knowledge of the business told TechCrunch.

Epic did not respond to a request for comment.

Fortnite, which is free to play but makes money selling digital items, has popularized the battle royale category — think Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games — almost single-handedly and it has been the standout title for the U.S-based game publisher.

Epic, which was founded way back in 1991, hasn’t given revenue figures for its smash hit — which has 125 million players — but this new profit milestone, combined with other pieces of data, gives an idea of the success that the company is seeing as a result of a prescient change in strategy made six years ago.

This past September, Epic commanded a valuation of nearly $15 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, as marquee investors like KKR, Kleiner Perkins and Lightspeed piled in on a $1.25 billion round to grab a slice of the red-hot development firm. However, the investment cards haven’t always been stacked in Epic’s favor.

China’s Tencent, the maker of blockbuster chat app WeChat and a prolific games firm in its own right, became the first outside investor in Epic’s business back in 2012 when it injected $330 million in exchange for a 40 percent stake in the business.

Back then, Epic was best known for Unreal Engine, the third-party development platform that it still operates today, and top-selling titles like Gears of War.

Why would a proven company give up such a huge slice of its business? Executives believed that Epic, as it was, was living on borrow time. They sensed a change in the way games were headed based on diminishing returns and growing budgets for console games, the increase of ‘live’ games like League of Legends and the emerging role of smartphones.

Speaking to Polygon about the Tencent deal, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney explained that the investment money from Tencent allowed the company to go down the route of freemium games rather than big box titles. That’s a strategy Sweeney called “Epic 4.0.”

“We realized that the business really needed to change its approach quite significantly. We were seeing some of the best games in the industry being built and operated as live games over time rather than big retail releases. We recognized that the ideal role for Epic in the industry is to drive that, and so we began the transition of being a fairly narrow console developer focused on Xbox to being a multi-platform game developer and self publisher, and indie on a larger scale,” he explained.

Tencent, Sweeney added, has provided “an enormous amount of useful advice” while the capital enabled Epic to “make this huge leap without the immediate of fear of money.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 12: Gamers ‘Ninja’ (L) and ‘Marshmello’ compete in the Epic Games Fortnite E3 Tournament at the Banc of California Stadium on June 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Epic never had a problem making money — Sweeney told Polygon the first Gear of Wars release grossed $100 million on a $12 million development budget — but with Fortnite the company has redefined modern gaming, both by making true cross-platform experiences possible and by pulling in vast amounts of money.

As a private company, Epic keeps its financials closely guarded. But digging beyond the $3 billion figure — which, to be clear, is annual profit not revenue — there are clues as to just how big a money-spinner Fortnite is. Certainly, there’s room to wonder whether analyst predictions this summer that Fortnite would gross $2 billion this year were too conservative.

The most recent data comes from November when Sensor Tower estimates that iOS users alone were spending $1.23 million per day. That helped the game bank $37 million in the month and take its total earnings within Apple’s iOS platform to more than $385 million.

But, as mentioned, Fortnite is a cross-platform title that supports PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, PC, Mac, Android and iOS. Aggregating revenue cross those platforms isn’t easy, and the only real estimate comes from earlier this year when Super Data Research concluded that the game made $318 million in May across all platforms.

That is, of course, when Fortnite was fresh on iOS, non-existent on Android and with fewer overall players.

We can deduct from Sensor Tower’s November estimate that iOS pulled in $385 million over eight months — between April and November — which is around $48 million per month on average. Android is harder to calculate since Epic skipped Google’s Play Store by distributing its own launcher. While it quickly picked up 15 million Android users within the first month, tracking that spending off-platform is a huge challenge. Some estimates predicted that Google would miss out on around $50 million in lost earnings this year because in-app purchases on Android would not cross its services.

There are a few factors to add further uncertainty.

Fornite spending tends to spike around the release of new seasons — updated versions of the game — since users are encouraged to buy specific packages at the start. The latest, Season 7, dropped early this month with a range of tweaks for the Christmas period. Give the increased velocity that Fortnite is picking up players and the appeal of the festive period, this could have been its biggest revenue generator to date but there’s not yet any indicator of how it performed.

More broadly, Fortnite has undoubtedly lost out on revenue in China, which frozen new game licenses nine months ago thereby preventing any publishers from monetizing new titles over that period.

Tencent, which publishes Fortnite in China, did release the game in the country but it hasn’t been able to draw revenue from it yet. The Chinese government announced last week that it is close to approving its first batch of new titles but it isn’t clear which games are included and when the process will be done.

Already, the effects have been felt.

Games are forecast to generate nearly $40 billion in revenue in China this year, according to market researcher Newzoo. However, the industry saw its slowest growth over the last 10 years as it grew 5.4 percent year-over-year during the first half of 2018, according to a report by Beijing-based research firm GPC and China’s official gaming association CNG.

Fortnite and PUBG — another battle royale title backed by Tencent — have perhaps suffered the most since they are universally popular worldwide but unable to monetize in China. It seems almost certain that those two titles will receive a major marketing push if, as and when they receive the license and, if Epic can keep the game competitive as Sweeney believed it could back in 2012, then it could go on and make even more money in 2019.

Epic Games is taking on Steam with its own digital game store, which includes higher take-home revenue rates for developers.

But Epic isn’t relying solely on Fortnite.

A more lowkey but significant launch this month was the opening of the Epic Game Store which is aimed squarely at Steam, the leader in digital game sales.

While Fortnite is its most prolific release, Epic also makes money from other games, Unreal Engine and a recently launched online game store that rivals Steam. Epic’s big differentiator for the store is that it gives developers 88 percent of their revenue, as opposed to Value — the firm behind Steam — which keeps 30 percent, although it has added varying rates for more successful titles. Customers are promised a free title every two weeks.

Either way, Epic is betting that it can do a lot more than Fortnite which could mean that its profit margin is even higher come this time next year.

Lightspeed is raising its largest China fund yet

Lightspeed China Partners has filed to raise $360 million for its fourth venture fund.

Lightspeed China Partners, the China-focused affiliate of Silicon Valley-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, has set a $360 million target for its fourth flagship venture fund, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today.

If the target is reached, the fund will be Lightspeed China’s largest yet, per PitchBook. Lightspeed China’s previous two funds each closed on $260 million. The VC raised $168 million for its debut fund in 2013.

Lightspeed China is led by David Mi (pictured). Mi, an investor in multiple billion-dollar Chinese companies, was previously the director of corporate development at Google, where he helped lead the search giant’s investment in Baidu. He joined Lightspeed in 2008 and established the firm’s China presence in 2011. Yan Han, a long-time Lightspeed investor and a founding partner of the firm’s Chinese branch, is also listed on the filing.

Lightspeed China has backed e-commerce platform Pingduoduo and loan provider Rong360, a pair of Chinese “unicorns” that both completed U.S. initial public offerings since 2017. Typically, the firm makes early-stage investments in the internet, mobile and enterprise spaces. 

Earlier this year, Lightspeed Venture Partners filed to raise a record $1.8 billion in new capital commitments. This month, it tacked five new partners onto its consumer and enterprise investment teams, including Slack’s former head of growth and Twitter’s former vice president of global business development.

Lightspeed didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Distinguished VCs back wholesale marketplace Faire with $100M at a $535M valuation

Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, Keith Rabois of Khosla, Alfred Lin of Sequoia and Alex Taussig of Lightspeed are backers of Faire.

A slew of venture capitalists known for high-profile exits — Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital and Alex Taussig of Lightspeed Venture Partners — have invested in Faire (formerly known as Indigo Fair), a 2-year-old wholesale marketplace for artisanal products.

A quick glance at Faire suggests it’s a combination of Pinterest and Etsy, complete with trendy, pastel stationery, soap, baby products and more, all made by independent artisans and sold to retailers. Faire has today announced a $100 million fundraise across two financing rounds: a $40 million Series B led by Taussig at Lightspeed and a $60 million Series C led by Y Combinator’s Continuity fund. New investors Founders Fund, the venture firm founded by Peter Thiel, and DST Global also participated. The business has previously brought in a total of $16 million.

The latest financing values Faire at $535 million, according to a source familiar with the deal.

If you’re feeling a little bit of déjà vu, that’s because a similar startup also raised a sizeable round of venture capital funding, announced today. That’s Minted . The 10-year-old company, best known for its wide assortment of wedding invitations and stationery, raised $208 million led by Permira, with participation from T. Rowe Price. Though Minted is first and foremost a consumer-facing marketplace, it plans to double down on its wholesale business with its latest infusion of capital, setting it up to be among Faire’s biggest competitors.

Like Minted, Faire leverages artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to forecast which products will fly off its virtual shelves in order to to source and manage inventory as efficiently as possible. The approach appears to be working; Faire says it has 15,000 retailers actively purchasing from its platform, including Walgreens, Walmart, Sephora and Nordstrom — a 3,140 percent year-over-year increase. It’s completed 2,000 orders to date, garnering $100 million in run rate sales, and has expanded its community of artists 445 percent YoY, to 2,000.

The company, headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Ontario and Waterloo, was founded by three former Square employees: chief executive officer Max Rhodes, who was product manager on a variety of strategic initiatives, including Square Capital and Square Cash; chief information officer Daniele Perito, who led risk and security for Square Cash; and chief technology officer Marcelo Cortes, a former engineering lead for Square Cash.

“Our mission at Faire is to empower entrepreneurs to chase their dreams,” Rhodes wrote in a blog post this morning. “We believe entrepreneurship is a calling. Starting a business provides a level of autonomy and fulfillment that’s become difficult to find for many elsewhere in the economy. With this in mind, we built Faire to help entrepreneurs on both sides of our marketplace succeed.”

Foxconn or Foxgone? Tariffs, Wisconsin and iPhone fires

First some notes on SoftBank’s rumored expansion into China and its weird fund math, then Foxconn and then quick notes on tech depression, Huawei and more. TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like […]

First some notes on SoftBank’s rumored expansion into China and its weird fund math, then Foxconn and then quick notes on tech depression, Huawei and more.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

SoftBank has fund visions (and a Vision Fund) for China? That, and more money

Kane Wu at Reuters reported overnight that SoftBank is looking to open an office and hire an investment team in China, which Wu says will be based in Shanghai. That’s following the fund’s recent global expansion with new targeted offices in Saudi Arabia and India.

When I saw this, I sort of did a double-take: SoftBank doesn’t have a presence in China? The fund has reportedly been seeking investments in some of China’s leading unicorn stars, including controversial face recognition startup SenseTime, and leading edtech startup Zuoyebang (作业帮, which literally translates as “school assignment help”). (Hat-tips to Selina Wang at Bloomberg, who seems to just be sitting in Vision Fund partner meetings). And of course, it dumped a pretty penny into WeWork China, where it was part of a $500 million syndicate, and is a huge investor in Didi.

It’s sort of obvious that SoftBank would expand to China. What will be interesting though is to see how the fund structures itself long-term. As far as I know, the Vision Fund is a singular “fund” that invests worldwide (send me an email if I am wrong on this count). China has a thicket of regulations on funds and companies, which is one of several reasons we see specifically China-focused vehicles (such as Lightspeed and Lightspeed China or Sequoia and Sequoia China). If the Vision Fund continues to be a unified fund, that would be a notable strategy shift that might be cloned by other trans-Pacific funds.

Aside: SoftBank Vision Fund math is complicated

Rajeev Misra, board director of SoftBank Group and CEO of SoftBank Investment Advisors. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

When it first closed the Vision Fund, SoftBank explained they had raised just over $93 billion in committed capital or, more precisely, around $93.15-$93.2 billion, according to the initial investor presentations and its annual Form D filings. In those docs, SoftBank said that the fund was financed with $28 billion from SoftBank and $65 billion from third-party investors.

On top of the $93 billion raised for the Vision Fund, SoftBank detailed that it had committed $4.5 billion of its own capital to a separate “Delta Fund,” which was used to alleviate conflicts around SoftBank’s Didi investment. Thus, SoftBank’s total VC funding aggregates to around $97.7 billion.

To add a complication, SoftBank later shifted $1.6 billion of the Vision Fund’s previously disclosed $65 billion in third-party capital over to the Delta Fund. In current disclosures, SoftBank shows $91.7 billion of committed capital for the Vision Fund ($28.1 billion from SoftBank and $63.6 billion from third-party investors). For the Delta Fund, SoftBank shows $6 billion in committed capital ($4.5 billion SoftBank contribution and $1.6 billion from third-party investors).

Here is where it gets even more complicated. In its latest filings, SoftBank also notes that it completed the interim closing of an additional $5 billion for the Vision Fund in mid-October, “intended for the installment of an incentive scheme for operations of SoftBank Vision Fund.” That additional cash would bring Vision Fund’s total committed capital to $96.7 billion, and $102.7 billion together with the Delta Fund.

While it wouldn’t be included in the committed equity capital total, SoftBank is also rumored to be raising a $4 billion credit facility to help finance additional acquisitions.

So, it’s probably best to say that the Vision Fund — as constituted right now — is $97 billion or $96.7 billion with precision, assuming this $5 billion reaches a final close.

SoftBank IPO

We have, of course, covered SoftBank quite obsessively, particularly its debt situation (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5). What we haven’t covered more recently are the latest developments in SoftBank’s IPO, which is slated for December 19th and expected to bring in a haul of $21 billion. More to come on that front in the coming days.

Foxconn or Foxgone?

U.S. President Donald Trump and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that Foxconn is investigating expanding its factories to Vietnam in order to avoid tariffs. Makes sense, and I have some calls this week and next trying to suss out how much hardware supply chains have really changed in response to the trade conflict.

That decision though isn’t just about the trade conflict, but also about the quickly increasing wages of Chinese laborers, as well as political interference from Beijing. The Trump administration’s trade policies are just the excuse Foxconn needs to (at least partially) extricate itself from China, while saving face in the process.

What’s interesting is that Foxconn is also dealing with a massive brush fire in Wisconsin, where it received one of the largest economic development incentives ever offered by an American government, a whopping $3 billion package that was expected to drive manufacturing employment in the state.

Overnight, Republicans in the state legislature passed a bill that would place large restrictions on incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers. Jessie Opoien for the (Madison) Cap Times:

Under the bill, legislators would have increased influence over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the WEDC board, not the governor, would appoint the job creation agency’s CEO. However, the governor’s power to appoint a CEO would be restored in September 2019.

That is the agency that provided the Foxconn funding, which has become a political football in Wisconsin politics. Republicans are trying to protect one of the major economic legacies of outgoing governor Scott Walker, as well as what they believe is the future direction of manufacturing work in the state. Democrats smell a boondoggle in the making.

If that wasn’t all, rumored skimpy sales for iPhones is putting enormous pressure on Foxconn’s bottom line. Debby Wu at Bloomberg reported two weeks ago that:

The contract manufacturer aims to cut 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) from expenses in 2019 as it faces “a very difficult and competitive year,” according to an internal document obtained by Bloomberg. The company’s spending in the past 12 months is about NT$206 billion ($6.7 billion).

Foxconn is a very dynamic organization that has weathered repeated crises over the years. It is pretty much unique in what it does today: very few other companies can scale up and down hundreds of thousands of workers to meet iPhone and other device demands with such alacrity.

But, the fundamentals of the mobile device market have apparently changed dramatically this year, and Foxconn is likely to be the company most harmed as the assembler of those devices. That could destroy not just the Chinese dream of leading in manufacturing, but also the Vietnam and Wisconsin dreams as well.

Also: If you haven’t read it, this poetry by a Foxconn worker who committed suicide really resonated with me. Foxconn’s suicide problem is well-documented, but we often don’t hear from the individuals themselves.

Quick bites

Which big tech companies are most depressed?

Blind, the anonymous enterprise chatting app that has taken the tech world by storm, published survey results asking tech employees “I believe I am depressed.” Roughly 40 percent of employees responded yes. Interestingly, there wasn’t too much variation between companies. Amazon had the highest rate at 43 percent and Apple had the lowest rate at 30 percent. It’s an informal survey, probably without high scientific validation, but it is a reminder for all of us in the community that mental health and burnout is very real in the startup and tech ecosystems and we should be vigilant in helping each other when times are rough.

More bad news for Huawei as British Telecom bans its equipment

This is one of those stories that we are just going to keep hearing about. After bans in Australia and New Zealand, British Telecom has announced they will not just ban Huawei’s 5G equipment, but also its 3G and 4G equipment. Britain, like Aus/NZ, Canada and the U.S., is part of the Five Eyes intelligence network, and national security officials have been leading the crusade against Huawei infrastructure. What’s interesting is not just the rapidity of the bans, but also that the bans haven’t (from what I have seen) migrated outside the Five Eyes community yet.

Pendo commits to hometown of Raleigh

Raleigh skyline. Photo by James Willamor used under Creative Commons via Flickr.

Pendo is a digital product management platform that has had quite a bit of success with customers and has raised more than $100 million in VC funding, most recently a Series D from Sapphire. The company announced that they have received a grant from home state North Carolina’s economic development department to grow in the Raleigh region. Pendo is committing $34.5 million to its headquarters (with the potential of creating 590 jobs), while the state will offer around $8.8 million in potential reimbursements over the next 12 years.

Given what I wrote yesterday about Wes McKinney leaving NYC and heading to Nashville and the work Chattanooga is doing to aid startups, it’s great to see other hotspots like Raleigh, NC invest to build out their ecosystems in a compelling way.

Todd Olson, CEO of Pendo, explained to me by email that, “Office rents in our downtown are a fraction of the cost of operating in other cities, and the cost of living is appealing to our employees. They can afford to buy a house here. In some markets around the country, that is becoming more difficult. It’s also just a nice place to live and work.”

Creative work is increasingly going to have to find a lower-cost home.

What’s next

I am still obsessing about next-gen semiconductors. If you have thoughts there, give me a ring: danny@techcrunch.com.

Thoughts on articles

The LP Anti-Portfolio – Great short read. Lindel Eakman, former managing director at UTIMCO, the University of Texas/Texas A&M endowment, gives a list of funds that he passed on that he now regrets. Unfortunately, this is pretty rare coming from an LP, albeit a former one. It would be great to get more public discussion on which funds were missed and why by LP investors.

Hopefully more reading time tomorrow.

Reading docket

What I’m reading (or at least, trying to read)

  • Huge long list of articles on next-gen semiconductors. More to come shortly.

Udaan, the e-commerce startup led by three former Flipkart executives, raises $225M

The trio announced this morning that their B2B e-commerce startup Udaan had raised $225 million in Series C funding. The cash infusion, according to Indian media reports, makes Udaan the fastest-ever Indian startup to be valued at over $1 billion.

Looks like Sujeet Kumar, Amod Malviya and Vaibhav Gupta’s decision to jump ship from Flipkart to focus on their own venture is paying off.

The trio announced this morning that their B2B e-commerce startup Udaan had raised $225 million in Series C funding co-led by DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners, with capital coming out of the latter’s growth fund. The cash infusion, according to Indian media reports, makes Udaan the fastest-ever Indian startup to be valued at over $1 billion.

Flipkart, one of the most successful e-commerce platforms out of India, sold to Walmart in a $16 billion deal earlier this year. Kumar, Malviya and Gupta, which were the former president of operations, CTO and SVP of business finance and analytics at Flipkart, respectively, departed the company in 2016.

Shortly after setting up the B2B marketplace, the three raised $10 million in a Series A led by Lightspeed in late 2016then another $50 million earlier this year, also led by Lightspeed, with participation from the venture capital firm’s India office.

Bejul Somaia, a managing director at Lightspeed India that’s been on the Bengaluru-based company’s board since that A round, confirmed the latest funding to TechCrunch.

“We have been fortunate to see the company scale very rapidly from close quarters,” Somaia told me via email. “We’re drawn to the company’s first-principles approach to solving significant problems that are unique in the Indian context.”

Udaan’s mobile app connects 150,000 traders, wholesalers and retailers in India, enabling small- and medium-sized businesses to do business directly with manufacturers. Right now, electronics and consumer goods are for sale on the app, with plans for the company to make industrial goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, office supplies and more available soon.

At just 26 months of age, there are few companies that have raced—or shall we say trotted—into the unicorn club at such a speed. Recent examples include the 3D printing company Desktop Metal, which crossed the threshold 21 months after its founding. Plus, there’s the Craigslist competitor Letgo; it became a unicorn in just two years.

Indian startup unicorns, of which there are fewer, have historically taken longer to earn their unicorn horns.

On-demand delivery platform Swiggy, for example, became a unicorn earlier this year, about four years after it was founded. Zomato, another delivery app, garnered a $1.4 billion valuation in 2017 after nearly 10 years in business.

Grab picks up $2 billion more to fuel growth in post-Uber Southeast Asia

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services. The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, […]

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services.

The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital.

Grab confirmed that the round is still open, so we can expect that it’ll add more investors and figures to this deal.

The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked.

This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides.

In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides. It has long done so, with its own payment service and food deliveries, but it is rolling out a revamped “super app” design that no longer opens to a ride request page and that reflects the changing strategy of the Singapore-based company.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, co-Founder, Grab, at a press conference during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Grab said in a statement today that this new money will go towards that “O2O” [offline-to-online] strategy that turns Grab’s app into a platform that allows traditional, offline services to tap the internet to reach new customers. The trend started out in China, with Alibaba and Tencent among those pushing O2O services, and Grab is determined to be that solution for Southeast Asia’s 650 million consumers.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a population of over 260 million, is a key focus for Grab, the company said. The company has been pushed out new financial services in the country, fueled by an acquisition last year, and it claims it is winning “significant market share” with GMV quadrupled in the first half of this year.

With Uber out of the picture, the company’s main rival for the ‘Southeast Asia Super App Crown’ is Go-Jek, the Indonesian on-demand service valued at $5 billion.

Go-Jek has long focused on its home market but this year it unveiled an ambitious plan to expand to three new markets. That kicked off yesterday with a launch in Vietnam, and the company has plans to arrive in Thailand and the Philippines before the end of the year.

Go-Jek has raised over $2 billion and it counts KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google and Chinese duo Tencent and Meituan among its backers.

Grab picks up $2 billion more to fuel growth in post-Uber Southeast Asia

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services. The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, […]

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services.

The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital.

Grab confirmed that the round is still open, so we can expect that it’ll add more investors and figures to this deal.

The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked.

This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides.

In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides. It has long done so, with its own payment service and food deliveries, but it is rolling out a revamped “super app” design that no longer opens to a ride request page and that reflects the changing strategy of the Singapore-based company.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, co-Founder, Grab, at a press conference during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Grab said in a statement today that this new money will go towards that “O2O” [offline-to-online] strategy that turns Grab’s app into a platform that allows traditional, offline services to tap the internet to reach new customers. The trend started out in China, with Alibaba and Tencent among those pushing O2O services, and Grab is determined to be that solution for Southeast Asia’s 650 million consumers.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a population of over 260 million, is a key focus for Grab, the company said. The company has been pushed out new financial services in the country, fueled by an acquisition last year, and it claims it is winning “significant market share” with GMV quadrupled in the first half of this year.

With Uber out of the picture, the company’s main rival for the ‘Southeast Asia Super App Crown’ is Go-Jek, the Indonesian on-demand service valued at $5 billion.

Go-Jek has long focused on its home market but this year it unveiled an ambitious plan to expand to three new markets. That kicked off yesterday with a launch in Vietnam, and the company has plans to arrive in Thailand and the Philippines before the end of the year.

Go-Jek has raised over $2 billion and it counts KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google and Chinese duo Tencent and Meituan among its backers.