13 Boston-focused VCs share the advice they’re giving portfolio companies

This post is by Natasha Mascarenhas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

TechCrunch is focusing a bit more on the Boston-area startup and venture capital ecosystem lately, which has gone pretty well so far.

In fact, we had originally intended on releasing this regional investor survey as a single piece, but since so many VCs took part, we’re breaking it into two. The first part deals with the world we live in today, and the remainder will detail what Boston-area investors think about the future.

We broke our questions into two parts to better track investor sentiment. But, we were also curious what was going to come when things got back closer to normal. So, this first entry in our Boston investor survey covers our questions concerning what’s going on now. On Thursday we’ll have the second piece, looking at what’s ahead.

Here’s who took part:

What follows is a quick digest of what stood out from the collected answers, though there’s a lot more that we didn’t get to.

Boston VC in the COVID-19 era

Parsing through thousands of words and notes from our participating VCs, a few things stood out.

Boston startups aren’t having as bad a time — yet, at least — as area investors expected

Fewer companies than they anticipated are laying off staff for example. From our perspective, the number of Boston investors who noted that their portfolio companies were executing layoffs or furloughs (we asked for each to be precise) was very low; far more Boston-area startups are hiring than even freezing headcount. Layoffs appear somewhat rare, but as we all know cost cutting can take many forms for startups. Especially startups on the seed and early-stage side, which makes up the majority of these firm’s portfolio companies.

According to Glasswing’s Rudina Seseri, startup duress has come in “significantly under what [her firm was] expecting at the beginning of COVID-19.”

This may be due to a strong first quarter helping companies in the city and its surrounding area make it another few quarters. We might not know the full bill of COVID-19 and its related disruptions until next year.

More investors than we expected noted that their Boston portfolio companies aren’t raising this year

So what we’re gleaning from that fact is that any decline in Q2 and Q3 VC data is not because companies can’t raise, but because they don’t need to. Comments echoed a theme we wrote about in April: Boston broke records in Q1 in terms of dollars raised, but saw a dip in the number of checks cut.

Pillar VC’s Jamie Goldstein said that “about 15% of our companies are planning to raise capital this year,” which felt about average. Underscore VC’s Lily Lyman simply noted that, “Yes,” her Boston-area portfolio companies would hunt for new capital this year. Bill Geary of Flare Capital is on the other side of that coin, saying that “each of [his firm’s] Boston-based investments has successfully recently raised capital and will not be raising additional funds until 2021.”

It’s hard not to wonder if what happened to Boston unicorns Toast and EzCater was the exception and not the rule

 You see, Boston’s startup scene skews relatively early stage, so smaller companies don’t have high-profile cuts because, to be frank, there isn’t much staff to cut in the first place. It puts Boston in a unique setting to focus in on its early stage market, and investors all agreed that this is an important moment for the ecosystem.

The March-era stress tests are now months in the rearview mirror, and every startup has shaken up their spend and growth plans. Perhaps we have met the new normal, and it’s time to let the runway do the talking.

With that, let’s get into full questions and answers.

Rudina Seseri, Glasswing Ventures

What is the top-line advice you’re giving your portfolio companies right now?

This is a pivotal time, be efficient and drive execution. Cut costs where possible but at the same time don’t be afraid to spend for growth acceleration.

What percentage of your Boston-based portfolio companies are still hiring, not including those merely backfilling?

About 60%.

What percentage of your Boston-based portfolio companies have frozen new hires?

About 20%.

What percentage of your Boston-based portfolio companies have furloughed staff?


What percentage of your Boston-based portfolio companies have cut staff?

One company that represents about 4% of the portfolio.

Are your Boston-based portfolio companies looking to raise new capital this year?

Most have raised recently, and consequently are not looking to raise at this time.

If not, are they often delaying due to COVID-19?

No, because of their recent raises, their fundraising considerations will take place in 2021.

Has duress amidst your Boston-based portfolio companies undershot, matched or overshot your expectations from March?

It has been significantly under what we were expecting at the beginning of COVID-19.

How has your investment appetite changed in terms of pace and location, if at all?

We have been very active and closed deals in this environment. Our expectation is that our investment appetite will remain the same going forward.

Are you making investments in Q2 into net-new founders and companies?

Yes, as a matter-of-fact we just closed a yet-to-be announced investment this month.

Are there particular sectors of startups in Boston that you expect to do well, aside from SaaS businesses that are benefiting from secular trends? Are there any sectors you have become newly bearish on?

Yes, those that are in our core focus areas — solutions that bring down the cost of cloud and data, platforms and tools leveraging AI, those that facilitate cost reduction, and intelligent solutions in cybersecurity that protect the enterprise.

How does the uncertainty of schools reopening impact the startup ecosystem?

This will further drive and institutionalize distributed teams and remote working as a go-forward mode of operating.

Quantum Machines raises $17.5M for its quantum orchestration platform

This post is by Frederic Lardinois from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Quantum Machines, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is building both hardware and software to operate quantum computers, today announced that it has raised a $17.5 million Series A funding round. The round was led by Israeli tech entrepreneur Avigdor Willenz, who, among other companies, co-founded Habana Labs and Anapurna Labs and sold them to Intel and Amazon respectively. and Harel Insurance investments.

TLV Partners and Battery Ventures also participated in this round. TLV Partners also led the company’s $5.5 million seed round in 2018, in which Battery Partners also participated.

“The race to commercial quantum computers is one of the most exciting technological challenges of our generation,” said Willenz. “Our goal at [Quantum Machines] is to make this happen faster than anticipated and establish ourselves as a key player in this emerging industry.”

The company says it will use the new funding to accelerate the adoption of its Quantum Orchestration Platform. This platform went live earlier this year. What makes it unique is that it’s a combination of custom hardware, which the company designed itself, and software tools that can be used to control virtually any quantum processor. To control a quantum processor, you also need a powerful classical computer, but traditional computers are ill-suited for this task, Quantum Machines argues, and it’ll take specialized hardware for classical computing to harness the power of quantum computing and run complex algorithms on these machines.

“The classical layers of the quantum computer are the real unmet need. They are the bottleneck,” Quantum Machines co-founder Itamar Sivan told me when the platform launch. “We were really looking into what is holding the industry back. What are the things that we can do today to drive this industry forward, but that will also enable faster progress in the future. Since most of the focus in the last years has been devoted to quantum processors, it was only natural that you know we take on this challenge.”

Equinix Closes $355M Deal For New York’s Packet

This post is by Sophia Kunthara from Crunchbase News

Data center giant Equinix has bought New York-based startup Packet for $355 million, the companies announced Monday. Packet provides automated bare metal infrastructure for edge computing.

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Edge computing is a “movement” to bring the power of the computer closer to where data is created or consumed to “rival the experience of the human brain,” explained Packet co-founder Zac Smith.

Equinix has data centers all over the world. With Packet being part of Equinix, it will be able to take its platform and put it all throughout Equinix’s platform. It will also help more companies take advantage of the hybrid cloud, Smith said.

Packet, while headquartered in New York, has a presence in cities such as Dallas and Palo Alto. Packet’s 140 employees will be joining Equinix.

News of the planned deal was announced earlier this year, and was expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.

Packet raised $9.4 million in a Series A round led by SoftBank in August 2016 and landed $25 million in a Series B round led by Third Point Ventures in September 2018. Battery Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital and Samsung NEXT have also backed the company.

Packet wasn’t looking to be acquired, Smith said, but it already had a relationship with Equinix. The acquisition made sense, he said, as both Equinix and Packet are infrastructure providers.

Packet marks Equinix’s 13th acquisition to date, with the company last buying Metronode in December 2017.

Illustration Credit: Li-Anne Dias

The post Equinix Closes $355M Deal For New York’s Packet appeared first on Crunchbase News.

NY-Based NorthOne, A Digital Challenger Bank For Small Businesses, Raises $21M Series A

This post is by Mary Ann Azevedo from Crunchbase News

NorthOne, a digital challenger bank focused on small businesses, announced this morning a $21 million Series A raise.

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Boston-based Battery Ventures led the round, which included participation from Redpoint Ventures and Tom Williams. The financing brings NorthOne’s total raised since its 2016 inception to $23.3 million.

New York-based NorthOne aims to provide small business owners (such as hairdressers and bakers), freelancers and startups  with an easy-to-use banking application. The company says its offering includes multi-language customer service teams, enhanced deposit and payment features for cash-reliant businesses, and “seamless” overseas vendor payments, among other things.

CEO Eytan Bensoussan co-founded NorthOne with his own upbringing in mind.

“I grew up in a family of small business owners where everybody would be going through occasional painful cycles of closing books and chasing invoices,” he told Crunchbase News. “So that in many ways influenced who we are trying to target.”

NorthOne spent a few years building out the product, conducting research with 100 small business owners across America, undergoing compliance testing and “finding the right partners.”

The startup launched its API-enabled, mobile-first banking platform in private beta last June, at which time Bensoussan said, the company already had a waitlist of 100,000 businesses requesting accounts. The startup had accomplished all its “in beta goals” by August, so went public on the app store at that time. In November, it released on Google Play. It currently has the “bare bones” of a desktop product in place. Continue reading “NY-Based NorthOne, A Digital Challenger Bank For Small Businesses, Raises $21M Series A”

What I See in Steve Case’s Revolution—Actually, a Long History of Tech Innovation in the Heartland

This past fall, former AOL CEO Steve Case announced a second, $150 million investment fund to back small companies based outside the traditional, coastal U.S. tech hubs—namely Silicon Valley and Boston/New York.

I think it’s a great idea. But I’m a little biased, as my investment firm has been pursuing this strategy for more than 15 years.

When I heard about Case’s new initiative, I smiled. Then I went back through some of our internal investment data starting with our eighth fund, which we raised in 2008.  In that fund, about 50% of our dollars invested went to companies in the U.S. heartland, South, or Pacific Northwest—basically any geography in the U.S. that wasn’t New York, Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area.

In that eighth fund, 24 of the 53 total portfolio companies in which we invested fit this description. They included little-known, healthcare-software companies Continue reading “What I See in Steve Case’s Revolution—Actually, a Long History of Tech Innovation in the Heartland”