Base10’s debut fund is the largest-ever for a Black-led VC firm

Adeyemi Ajao, the co-founder and managing director of Base10 Partners, was surprised to hear his firm’s $137 million fund was the largest debut to date for a black-led venture capital firm.

He and his co-founder — managing director TJ Nahigian — found out from none other than their fund’s own limited partners, who told them they should seek out institutions looking to invest in diverse fund managers.

Adeyemi Ajao (above left), the co-founder and managing director of Base10 Partners, was surprised to hear his firm’s $137 million fund was the largest debut to date for a black-led venture capital firm.

He and his co-founder — managing director TJ Nahigian (above right) — found out from none other than their fund’s own limited partners, who told them they should seek out institutions looking to invest in diverse fund managers.

“Oh man, I was like, ‘yeah, I know I’m black but so what?'” Ajao told TechCrunch. “I can be a little bit naive about these things until they become extremely apparent.”

Ajao is African, European, Latin, and now, having spent a decade in San Francisco, American. Growing up in between Spain and Nigeria, it wasn’t until landing in the Bay Area that he was forced to confront a social dynamic absent in his international upbringing: racial inequality and being black in America.

“The U.S. is pretty different about those things,” he said. “I was surprised when at Stanford I got an invitation to a dinner of the Black Business Student Association. I’m like, ‘why would there be a Black Business Student Association? That’s so weird?’ It took me a while, a good, good while, to be like ok, here there’s actually a really entrenched history of a clash and people being treated differently day-to-day.”

In the business of venture capital, the gap in funding for black founders and other underrepresented entrepreneurs is jarring. There’s not a lot of good data out there to illustrate the gap, but one recent study by digitalundivided showed the median amount of funding raised by black women founders is $0, because most companies founded by black women receive no money.  

Ajao certainly hadn’t thought the color of his skin would impact his fundraising process, and, in retrospect, he doesn’t think it did. Still, he recognizes that pattern recognition and implicit bias continue to be barriers for diverse founders and investors.

Now, he plans to leverage his unique worldview to identify the next wave of unicorns others VCs are missing. Base10 doesn’t have a diversity thesis per say but it plans to invest in global companies fixing problems that affect 99 percent of the world, not the Silicon Valley 1 percent. 

I sat down with Ajao in Base10’s San Francisco office to discuss his background, the firm’s investment focus and the importance of looking beyond the Silicon Valley bubble.

Automation of the real economy

Base10 is writing seed and Series A checks between 500,000 and $5 million. It’s completed 10 investments so far, including in Brazilian mobility startups Grin and Yellow, which closed a $63 million Series A last week.

The firm is looking for entrepreneurs who have spent years in their industries, whether that be agriculture, logistics, waste management, construction, real estate or otherwise, and are trying to solve problems they’ve experienced first-hand.

“We are much more likely to fund someone that actually worked for eight years on a construction site and was like, ‘you know what, I think this could be done better and maybe I can make my life easier with automation,’ rather than a Ph.D. in AI out of the Stanford lab that says ‘I think construction is inefficient and it can be done without people,'” Ajao said. “[We are] kind of flipping the paradigm in that sense.”

The firm has also backed birth control delivery startup The Pill Club, on-demand staffing company Wonolo and Tokensoft, a platform for compliant token sales. 

Beyond the bubble

Ajao and Nahigian have a mix of operational and investing experience.

On the VC side, Nahigian, a Los Angeles native, spent seven years investing via Summit Partners, Accel, then Coatue Management. In 2014, he co-founded Jobr, a mobile job platform that was later acquired by Monster, where he became the VP of product and head of mobile.

Ajao was most recently a VP at Workday where he led the launch of Workday Ventures, a VC fund focused on AI for enterprise software. He joined Workday after the company acquired his startup, Identified, in what was his second successful exit to date. Before that, he co-founded Spanish social media company Tuenti, which Telefonica paid $100 million for in 2010

He also helped incubate and launch Cabify, a Spanish ride-hailing company based in Madrid. The Uber competitor raised $160 million at a $1.4 billion valuation earlier this year.

Ajao was Nahigian’s first investor in Jobr, which was also backed by Tim Draper, Redpoint Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Lowercase Capital and more. The pair stayed in touch, discussed startups and potential deals, ultimately deciding to go into business together. 

They agreed Base10 should support companies solving real problems and that as investors, they needed to be able to see beyond the Silicon Valley bubble.

Do we feel a little bit of a responsibility? Like … ‘hey, you should help Silicon Valley be more aware of global issues.’ Yes,” Ajao said. “I try to spend a lot of time meeting with founders that either look different or are trying to make it here and I try to be super open about my journey and my travels.”

His piece of advice to other VCs is one that countless diverse founders and investors have been shouting at the top of their lungs: Invest in underrepresented founders, it’s just good business.

“If you have the same company and one is run by a female and one is run by a male, and it’s the same stuff, you should probably invest in the female, because that person probably had a harder time getting there,” he said. “It’s actually good business. I believe that.”

“The more open and comfortable we get about talking about these things, the better it is for both parties.”

This is how much VCs are paid

Venture capital is known for being an opaque industry, so it’s no surprise most of us have no idea what the average VC earns in a year.

Venture capital is known for being an opaque industry, so it’s no surprise most of us have no idea what the average VC earns in a year.

I got a closer look at the survey results of J. Thelander Consulting‘s annual venture firm compensation survey and, unsurprisingly, VCs make a lot of money.

Just how much? Well, of the 204 VCs surveyed (172 male and 32 female), the average general partner expects to make roughly $634,000 this year, including a bonus for 2017 performance.

The averages varied a bit depending on the size of the firm. VCs at firms with less than $250 million assets under management (AUM), for example, earn less than their counterparts at larger firms.

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GPs, who sit at the top of the ranks at VC firms, have the largest compensation packages. Their yearly bonuses are, on average, larger than an associate’s, or entry-level investor’s, average base pay.

The survey didn’t parse out data from firms with billions AUM, aka the Sequoias, NEAs or Kleiner Perkins of the world. Those folks, if the above is any indicator, earn more.

Take note: This is all in addition to a VC’s carried interest, or percentage of a fund’s profits paid to firms’ partners.

Crypto’s second bubble, Juul has 60 days and three Chinese IPOs

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. After a long run of having guests climb aboard each week, we took a pause on that front, bringing together three of our regular hosts instead: Connie Loizos, Danny Chrichton, and myself. Despite the fact that there were […]

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

After a long run of having guests climb aboard each week, we took a pause on that front, bringing together three of our regular hosts instead: Connie Loizos, Danny Chrichton, and myself.

Despite the fact that there were just three of us instead of the usual four, we got through a mountain of stuff. Which was good as it was a surprisingly busy week, and we didn’t want to leave too much behind.

Up top we dug into the latest in the land of crypto, which Danny had politely summarized for us in an article. The gist of his argument is that the analogies relating crypto as an industry to the Internet may work, but most people have their timelines wrong: Crypto isn’t like the Internet in the 90s, perhaps. More like the 80s.

On the same topic, crypto companies formed a team lobbying effort, and a high-flying crypto fund is struggling to once again post strong profit figures.

Moving along, Juul is back in the news. Not, however, for raising more money or posting quick growth. Well, sort of the latter, as the government is after it. The Food and Drug Administration has put Juul on a countdown to get its act together regarding teens and smoking. That the financially-impressive unicorn is in as much trouble as it is nearly surprising.

Finally, we ran through the three most recent Chinese IPOs that hit our radar. Here they are:

  • Meituan Dianping: The Tencent-backed group buying, delivery, and everything company raised over $4 billion in its debut, which was impressive, but also short of expectations. The firm won’t begin trading until the 20th, but it’s one more massive deal that got done in 2018.
  • 111: We spent a minute on the show discussing what counts as a technology company thanks to 111. We voted that the Chinese online-to-offline pharmacy startup did in fact count. So, it’s in our list. Some notes on its debut can be found here.
  • NIO: Finally on our list was NIO, a Chinese electric car company with, as we have discussed on Equity before, a shockingly short history of revenue generation. Whether the company is a gamble or not, it did raise $1 billion in its own offering. And its stock is off like a rocket to boot.

And that was the end of things. Thanks for sticking with us, as always. Speaking of which, our 100th episode is coming up. Who should we bring onto the show to celebrate?

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Golden Gate Ventures closes new $100M fund for Southeast Asia

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million. The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore […]

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million.

The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Korea’s Hanwha, Naver — the owner of messaging app Line — and EE Capital. Investors backing the firm for the first time through this fund include Mistletoe — the fund from Taizo Son, brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son — Mitsui Fudosan, IDO Investments, CTBC Group, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC), and Ion Pacific.

Golden Gate was founded by former Silicon Valley-based trio Vinnie Lauria, Jeffrey Paine and Paul Bragiel . It has investments across five markets in Southeast Asia — with a particular focus on Indonesia and Singapore — and that portfolio includes Singapore’s Carousell, automotive marketplace Carro, P2P lending startup Funding Societies, payment enabler Omise and health tech startup AlodokterGolden Gate’s previous fund was $60 million and it closed in 2016.

Some of the firm’s exits so far include the sale of Redmart to Lazada (although not a blockbuster), Priceline’s acquisition of WoomooLine’s acquisition of Temanjalan and the sale of Mapan (formerly Ruma) to Go-Jek. It claims that its first two funds have had distributions of cash (DPI) of 1.56x and 0.13x, and IRRs of 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

“When I compare the tech ecosystem of Southeast Asia (SEA) to other markets, it’s really hit an inflection point — annual investment is now measured in the billions. That puts SEA on a global stage with the US, China, and India. Yet there is a youthfulness that reminds me of Silicon Valley circa 2005, shortly before social media and the iPhone took off,” Lauria said in a statement.

A report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Southeast Asia’s digital economy will grow from $50 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion by 2025 as internet penetration continues to grow across the region thanks to increased ownership of smartphones. That opportunity to reach a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers — more of whom are online today than the entire U.S. population — is feeding optimism around startups and tech companies.

Golden Gate isn’t alone in developing a fund to explore those possibilities, there’s plenty of VC activity in the region.

Some of those include Openspace, which was formerly known as NSI Ventures and just closed a $135 million fund, Qualgro, which is raising a $100 million vehicle and Golden Equator, which paired up with Korea Investment Partners on a joint $88 million fund. Temasek-affiliated Vertex closed a $210 million fund last year and that remains a record for Southeast Asia.

Golden Gate also has a dedicated crypto fund, LuneX, which is in the process of raising $10 million.

Golden Gate Ventures closes new $100M fund for Southeast Asia

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million. The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore […]

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million.

The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Korea’s Hanwha, Naver — the owner of messaging app Line — and EE Capital. Investors backing the firm for the first time through this fund include Mistletoe — the fund from Taizo Son, brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son — Mitsui Fudosan, IDO Investments, CTBC Group, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC), and Ion Pacific.

Golden Gate was founded by former Silicon Valley-based trio Vinnie Lauria, Jeffrey Paine and Paul Bragiel . It has investments across five markets in Southeast Asia — with a particular focus on Indonesia and Singapore — and that portfolio includes Singapore’s Carousell, automotive marketplace Carro, P2P lending startup Funding Societies, payment enabler Omise and health tech startup AlodokterGolden Gate’s previous fund was $60 million and it closed in 2016.

Some of the firm’s exits so far include the sale of Redmart to Lazada (although not a blockbuster), Priceline’s acquisition of WoomooLine’s acquisition of Temanjalan and the sale of Mapan (formerly Ruma) to Go-Jek. It claims that its first two funds have had distributions of cash (DPI) of 1.56x and 0.13x, and IRRs of 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

“When I compare the tech ecosystem of Southeast Asia (SEA) to other markets, it’s really hit an inflection point — annual investment is now measured in the billions. That puts SEA on a global stage with the US, China, and India. Yet there is a youthfulness that reminds me of Silicon Valley circa 2005, shortly before social media and the iPhone took off,” Lauria said in a statement.

A report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Southeast Asia’s digital economy will grow from $50 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion by 2025 as internet penetration continues to grow across the region thanks to increased ownership of smartphones. That opportunity to reach a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers — more of whom are online today than the entire U.S. population — is feeding optimism around startups and tech companies.

Golden Gate isn’t alone in developing a fund to explore those possibilities, there’s plenty of VC activity in the region.

Some of those include Openspace, which was formerly known as NSI Ventures and just closed a $135 million fund, Qualgro, which is raising a $100 million vehicle and Golden Equator, which paired up with Korea Investment Partners on a joint $88 million fund. Temasek-affiliated Vertex closed a $210 million fund last year and that remains a record for Southeast Asia.

Golden Gate also has a dedicated crypto fund, LuneX, which is in the process of raising $10 million.

Golden Gate Ventures closes new $100M fund for Southeast Asia

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million. The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore […]

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million.

The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Korea’s Hanwha, Naver — the owner of messaging app Line — and EE Capital. Investors backing the firm for the first time through this fund include Mistletoe — the fund from Taizo Son, brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son — Mitsui Fudosan, IDO Investments, CTBC Group, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC), and Ion Pacific.

Golden Gate was founded by former Silicon Valley-based trio Vinnie Lauria, Jeffrey Paine and Paul Bragiel . It has investments across five markets in Southeast Asia — with a particular focus on Indonesia and Singapore — and that portfolio includes Singapore’s Carousell, automotive marketplace Carro, P2P lending startup Funding Societies, payment enabler Omise and health tech startup AlodokterGolden Gate’s previous fund was $60 million and it closed in 2016.

Some of the firm’s exits so far include the sale of Redmart to Lazada (although not a blockbuster), Priceline’s acquisition of WoomooLine’s acquisition of Temanjalan and the sale of Mapan (formerly Ruma) to Go-Jek. It claims that its first two funds have had distributions of cash (DPI) of 1.56x and 0.13x, and IRRs of 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

“When I compare the tech ecosystem of Southeast Asia (SEA) to other markets, it’s really hit an inflection point — annual investment is now measured in the billions. That puts SEA on a global stage with the US, China, and India. Yet there is a youthfulness that reminds me of Silicon Valley circa 2005, shortly before social media and the iPhone took off,” Lauria said in a statement.

A report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Southeast Asia’s digital economy will grow from $50 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion by 2025 as internet penetration continues to grow across the region thanks to increased ownership of smartphones. That opportunity to reach a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers — more of whom are online today than the entire U.S. population — is feeding optimism around startups and tech companies.

Golden Gate isn’t alone in developing a fund to explore those possibilities, there’s plenty of VC activity in the region.

Some of those include Openspace, which was formerly known as NSI Ventures and just closed a $135 million fund, Qualgro, which is raising a $100 million vehicle and Golden Equator, which paired up with Korea Investment Partners on a joint $88 million fund. Temasek-affiliated Vertex closed a $210 million fund last year and that remains a record for Southeast Asia.

Golden Gate also has a dedicated crypto fund, LuneX, which is in the process of raising $10 million.

Chipmaker Renesas goes deeper into autonomous vehicles with $6.7B acquisition

Japan-based semiconductor firm Renesas — one of the world’s largest supplier of chips for the automotive industry — is scooping up U.S. chip company IDT in a $6.7 billion deal that increases its focus on self-driving technology. Renesas produces microprocessor and circuits that power devices, and automotive is its core focus. It is second only to NXP […]

Japan-based semiconductor firm Renesas — one of the world’s largest supplier of chips for the automotive industry — is scooping up U.S. chip company IDT in a $6.7 billion deal that increases its focus on self-driving technology.

Renesas produces microprocessor and circuits that power devices, and automotive is its core focus. It is second only to NXP on supply, and more than half of its revenue comes from automotive. IDT, meanwhile, includes power management and memory among its products, which focus on wireless networks and the converting and storing of data. Those are two areas that are increasingly important with the growth of connected devices and particularly vehicles which demand high levels of data streaming and interaction.

The acquisition of IDT — which is being made a 29.5 percent on its share price — is set to expand Renesas’ expertise on autonomous vehicles. The firm said it would also broaden its business into the “data economy” space, such as robotics, data centers and other types of connected devices.

Renesas has already demoed self-driving car tech, which puts it into direct competition with the likes of Intel . Last year, the firm paid $3.2 billion to buy up Intersil, which develops technology for controlling battery voltage in hybrid and electric vehicles, and IDT deal pushes it further in that direction.

“There’s little overlap between their product portfolios, so it’s a strategically sound move for Renesas. But it does seem like the price is a little high,” said Bloomberg analyst Masahiro Wakasugi.

The IDT deal has been on the table for a couple of weeks after Renesas first revealed its interest in an acquisition last month. It is expected to close in the first half of 2019 following relevant approvals.

Is China’s digital silk road going to pave over Silicon Valley?

Norman Liang Contributor Share on Twitter Norman Liang is an investor with W.I. Harper. Over the past 20 years, China has now grown into one of the largest consumer technology markets, with thousands of startups and funding rivaling Silicon Valley. In 2018, Chinese entrepreneurs are seeking to expand their businesses beyond borders, establish international operations, […]

Over the past 20 years, China has now grown into one of the largest consumer technology markets, with thousands of startups and funding rivaling Silicon Valley.

In 2018, Chinese entrepreneurs are seeking to expand their businesses beyond borders, establish international operations, and become global companies by listing on exchanges including the NASDAQ and NYSE.

More than ever Chinese entrepreneurs are confident in their ability to create a unicorn thanks to China’s digital transformation and its leading innovations in international markets.

Digital transformation through new native apps and services make scaling easier

Despite the talent war between China and the U.S. and large growing domestic markets, Chinese chief executives dream of successfully entering the U.S. Market. There is now global competition to attract Chinese startups to list on exchanges around the world. With a growing number of unicorns, entrepreneurs have an opportunity to go abroad and become global businesses by listing on foreign stock exchanges.

Today, China’s landscape is fueled by ideas, aspirations, and a desire to succeed at all costs. With slowing growth, many startups have begun to look abroad for growth and opportunities.

Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have a front seat to the local market as it has evolved over the past 20 years. As host to many Chinese entrepreneurs as friends and partners, I have noticed a single trend — Chinese entrepreneurs are infatuated with the US market, despite being a smaller market with more competition.

To succeed, Chinese entrepreneurs are seeking to list in International markets rather than the local stock market. In the second quarter of this year Chinese startups have attracted 47% of all global venture capital. To win highly competitive deals, China’s newly formed talent networks, a willingness to invest and expand, and eagerness to learn are the key to success for cross-border entrepreneurs who are looking for attention on the global stage.

In 2010, I was fortunate to be part of a room of Chinese entrepreneurs who visited the United States. They were all incredibly appreciative of the opportunities their companies had provided for them and dreamed of an IPO or raising capital in the United States. These companies were humble, hungry, and had products that had reached global scale with hundreds of users.

(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Global Aspirations

The Silicon Valley dream rings true for entrepreneurs around the world. Over the past 20 years, Silicon Valley has been a special place where startups were born. But in 2004, I took the first trip to meet with entrepreneurs in China and was fascinated by their technical ability, their focus to solve everyday problems, and ability to build teams and execute. The entrepreneurial dream continues to bring them here to the United States. Their ambitions are out of respect and a desire to play a part on the global stage and participate in the global conversation.

As they do there are a few advantages that Chinese entrepreneurs have in the current market.

1 – Mobile Internet adoption

Mobile Internet adoption in China is now at 48%, and is amongst the highest in the world. With 750 million active users and increasing time spent on the mobile screen, the mobile phone is a lifeline that is now as essential as bank accounts. Thanks to this digital transformation, it does not feel like digital wallets are hurting for adoption in China’s major cities where all workers are used to mobile payments with complete strangers for everything from short taxi rides, bike rides, or food from the local street food vendor.

2 – Large Local Market

China’s local Internet market is anchored by local investment that helps companies grow and scale. With competitive rounds, and a growing number of entrepreneurs from around the world, Chinese startups raised $25 billion last year. Many of these startups raise the capital locally since many of their operations and revenues come from the local market. With an increasing concern over regulation over things like capital controls, many entrepreneurs look to international financing options to grow and scale their businesses to other Internet users around the world.

3 – Digital Economy

China’s digital economy is more complex and mature than other parts of the world. More than 75% of China’s smartphone users are active users of mobile payments. The phone has become the center of China’s netizens. Their behavior is changing the way people market, discover, purchase, and deliver products and services. Whether it be classes on the phone to learn English, or buying a In the world of consumer and mobile startups, China is building the infrastructure as we speak. But with existing channels, and supply chains, entrepreneurs are able to build products and services that can scale beyond their borders. In China, there are now over 100billion mobile transactions happening on the phone.

(Photo credit should read JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Where does this leave things?

China is pulling ahead. With the mobile phone now home to 100 apps that people use to connect, communicate, eat, and share, Chinese companies are reaching profit and scale and looking to explore international markets.

Chinese entrepreneurs are just beginning to explore international markets. In the past, entrepreneurs came here to establish small teams to build partnerships. In the past decade, Chinese companies have been some of the leading acquirers of technology companies. Before its IPO, Alibaba acquired 95 startups in Silicon Valley and around the world.

We see Chinese technology startups looking to be global. From publishing world-class research, they are seeking connections to the global market, serving the overseas Chinese population around the world in the US, Europe, and Latin America, and looking for partners who can help them achieve the entrepreneur’s dream of a global IPO.

China’s large consumer market, rapid digital transformation, and its creativity are helping these entrepreneurs become the icons of a new generation in China and the United States. Investors should see their jobs as super-connectors, providing these entrepreneurs with capital, connections, and experience that helps their companies continue to grow and scale beyond China’s borders.

 

Insight Venture Partners buys content management platform Episerver for $1.1 billion

Episerver, the Irvine, California-based company which provides services for marketers to manage content, was bought by Insight Venture Partners for a cool $1.1 billion from the private equity firm Accel-KKR. The company said it would use the money to fuel its plans for global expansion “Episerver is at the center of a global digital transformation […]

Episerver, the Irvine, California-based company which provides services for marketers to manage content, was bought by Insight Venture Partners for a cool $1.1 billion from the private equity firm Accel-KKR.

The company said it would use the money to fuel its plans for global expansion

“Episerver is at the center of a global digital transformation market that IDC expects to reach $1.7 trillion through 2019 and is expertly helping businesses of all sizes to digitize, optimize and personalize customer experiences,” said Deven Parekh, Managing Director at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement.

Back in 2015, Accel-KKR (the joint venture between ;one of Silicon Valley’s premier venture capital firms, Accel Partners, and private equity giant KKR),  had merged Episerver (known as EPiServer) with Ektron (we reported on the Ektron acquisition when it happened) to bulk up the content management business.

At the time of the merger, Episerver had 8,800 customers in roughly 30 countries, serving up digital assets to over 30,000 websites.

The company’s service allows businesses to have a single repository for all of their marketing messaging to enable for information to be disseminated from a central location to different national and international websites.

The idea is to make the customization and personalization of marketing messaging easier for far flung corners of a business.

Here’s what we wrote about the market around the time that Ektron was sold to Accel -KKR before its merger with Episerver.

… web content management itself has become increasingly commoditized as vendors share a common set of functionality, making it much more difficult to differentiate products in the market. One way companies including Ektron are trying to do that is to have a greater digital focus. In fact, the entire industry is pivoting to what they are calling customer experience management where they attempt to provide the optimal experience for the customer, however they interact with a company based on what they know about them.

This means that increasingly companies are trying to provide a more customized experience, rather than give everyone the same generic content. We recently reported on how Acquia is trying to provide ways to tell marketers more about visitors and present more customized content based on what they can glean from them, even when they are anonymous. You can still understand things like device, IP address and other information even when customers don’t choose to share information explicitly about themselves.

“We knew that Episerver had world-class products and people when we made the investment.  Accel-KKR worked to augment the leadership team, make a number of strategic acquisitions, help build out a stronger channel and significantly grow SaaS revenue,” said Jason Klein and Dean Jacobson, managing directors of Accel-KKR — in a weirdly jointly attributed statement (I’m assuming the two directors dictated the statement in unison to the public relations pro who served as a stenographer for this release… seriously y’all? A joint statement? That’s just stupid).

Episerver was advised by Goldman Sachs and Lazard, while Houlihan Lokey was a special advisor to Accel-KKR

The transaction, in which Episerver worked with advisors Goldman Sachs and Lazard, Houlihan Lokey acted as special advisor to Accel-KKR, and Insight Venture Partners was advised by Evercore.

Startups should read this checklist before they go “whale hunting” for big partners

David Frankel Contributor David Frankel is a managing partner at Founder Collective. More posts by this contributor You earn a million dollars a year and can’t get funded? Dear auto entrepreneurs, please think outside the gearbox A top four tech company recently approached the CEO of one of our B2B portfolio companies with a tremendous […]

A top four tech company recently approached the CEO of one of our B2B portfolio companies with a tremendous offer. This company, with buy-in from its world-famous CEO, believes the startup’s core technology could help them catch up to a rival in an incredibly important space and wanted to discuss a $20M investment on extremely favorable terms. This partnership would allow the startup to grow 10X in a year and would provide invaluable validation.

The founder was elated. I was terrified. This kind of deal is a classic “whale hunt,” and most of the startups who engage in them are doomed to end up like Captain Ahab.

While it’s immensely gratifying to receive this kind of validation from a market leader, the startup is at an early and important developmental stage. I’ve seen many promising startups blown up by ill-advised business development deals that swelled teams in a bout of euphoria only to see them wither if interest and focus from their partner wanes.

In my experience, arrangements that pair a behemoth megacorp with a Seed/Series A stage startup have a success rate well below 50%. I didn’t tell the founder to decline the offer outright, but I did suggest that the management team consider a few questions before pursuing it.

How much MRR will it add to your business? The project with the large company is in line with the startup’s long-term vision, but it’s a departure from their current focus. A $20M investment is very nice indeed, but once that money is spent, what will the ongoing revenue be? And what is the opportunity cost of not supporting the current business plan? What discount rate will you apply to compensate for the small probability of this deal working out? My advice was that if he couldn’t satisfactorily answer those questions, it was probably the right move to turn the deal down. Even if the deal was structured as $20M in revenue rather than equity I’d hesitate.

How, in detail, will this project help your core business? There’s an argument for entering into an agreement like this even if the immediate revenue contribution is low. If the project will allow the startup to speed up the development of a core technology that is generally applicable to other customers, it would seem far more worthy of consideration but beware our human ability to rationalize (first and foremost to ourselves).

These projects more often end up as bespoke development engagements where despite the initial intention, the startup is producing a custom application for the big co. Founders will rationalize the deviations from their product roadmap, but ultimately sell out their future for a long-shot opportunity to integrate with a worldwide leader.

My advice is to not think magically about product/market fit, and instead, to try pre-selling it to other customers as a form of market development. If you can sell the product, great! If not, you’re probably using venture capital to subsidize the R&D budget of a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

What happens if this doesn’t work out? It’s easy to visualize success, but what happens if the deal doesn’t lead anywhere? In this scenario, imagine the big tech company decides to change its priorities and abandons the initiative. SaaS startups face a similar failure mode when they go to great lengths to impress big companies during pilot programs only to see their project die due to lack of interest. When considering a high-risk, high-reward partnership, founders need to spend time envisioning a gruesome demise.

● What will your pitch be for a bridge round of financing when you have no revenue, you just came up short during a prolonged engagement with the best possible customer in your industry?

● How will you reassure your most talented team members that you know what you’re doing when the deal fails, and capital is running short?

● How quickly can you reorient the company to focus on other customers and how quickly will you start generating revenue from them?

Image courtesy of Flickr/Felipe Campos

How well do you understand the Big Company? Founders with little exposure to big companies are susceptible to misreading cues. My partner Eric Paley wrote about how entrepreneurs regularly misread their likelihood of getting funding from VCs, and the pattern is similar with this kind of business development deal.

When I started an ISP in South Africa in the 1990s, I had the chance to pitch the executive team at the country’s equivalent to Walmart . We were talking about the upcoming Olympic Games, which they were sponsoring. I asked if they were bringing their biggest customers to the events. One of the VPs looked at me, bewildered, and said: “Your mother may well be our biggest customer.”

I instantly realized they didn’t have big customers; they were a big customer. Their suppliers took them to the Games and fancy dinners. I felt silly at the moment but learned a valuable lesson about B2B power dynamics. Here are some other dynamics to be cautious of:

Are You Aware of the Work Pace Differential?

Startups measure their survival quarter to quarter while big companies plan in five-year increments. It’s often shocking how slowly big company partners move on everything from email to product roll-outs. Decisions made by gut feel at startups have to navigate a maze of meetings and committees at a big company. Startups often drown in the number of process leviathans require to make the smallest of improvements.

Who are the Internal Champions?

Promising projects can die on the vine because the internal champion gets reassigned or leaves the company. Successful partnerships will involve multiple high-level people from the larger organization. They also typically involve the startup being paid a fair market rate or are paired with a strategic investment to help defray the burden of non-recurring expenses. If not, beware.

Most sponsors will say their project is critical to the company, but it’s the startups CEO’s job to check that out. Founders should reference the opportunity in the same way they would reference an investor. This kind of deal is often an all or nothing bet on your company, don’t make it too blithely.

Is the Project a Priority for the CXO/VP?

Partnerships between startups and big companies work best when it solves the problem of a VP or CXO level executive. Below that level, we’ve seen startups spend large sums and risk their future on what amounts to a proof of concept project for a mid-level director with no real juice.

This is especially common with startups who sell to retailers. Theoretically, the brick and mortar shops need a bulwark against Amazon, but in reality, we’ve seen many of them default to more focused on protecting their physical retail turf rather than truly investing in online sales. They’ll run pilots to assure investors that they have their eye on the future when in reality the efforts are more PR than a business plan.

Do you Understand Big Company Logic?

A $20M investment to a small startup is a massive deal. For a big company, it’s essentially the size of an acquihire and can be shut down with no repercussions. In the context of a half-billion dollar company, $20M bets actually fail far more than a startup may appreciate.

Are you competing with another startup?

Is this project a “bake-off” where multiple companies are competing? The most dangerous kind of whale hunting is when a startup is competing with one or more competitors to win a large book of business. Founders considering this kind of arrangement should give serious thought to skipping the process and building out a less concentrated revenue base with fewer impediments while your competitors fight to the death.

Do you have a deep bench of vetted candidates ready to be hired? Founders often underestimate the challenge of growing 3-5X in short order. Every successful startup has to do this, but it usually happens more organically over time. The kind of business development deal our portfolio CEO is considering will change the company overnight.

Entrepreneurs need to ask if they have a long list of former co-workers, peers, vetted candidates eager to join their company? If not, massively scaling the company to meet the demands of a major partner will likely lead to sub-par hires to fill an urgent need while slowly poisoning the company’s culture. Money is rarely the most challenging part of hiring. Hiring fast when you control your destiny is hard enough, doing so in an uncertain arrangement can be very detrimental.

Beyond hiring, it’s important to view a partnership through the lens of Activity Based Costing.

How much time will this take up? 50%? 80%? More? Will you have to drop existing customers or products to make the project work? Are you still able to grow the business outside of this partnership or is it genuinely all-consuming?

Are You Ready for the Hunt?

If you can answer these questions confidently, then you may be ready to go whale hunting. When these projects work, they can be the first domino in a cascade that leads to growth and good places. More often, it results in a startup spending a year and a large chunk of its capital on a high-risk business development deal that more often fails to pan out. Chart your course accordingly.