Quickly Unpacking The Looker And Tableau Acquisitions


This post is by Semil Shah from Haystack.vc


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Normally, I like to pounce on these big acquisitions quickly with some quick analysis, but big M&A in tech is happening too fast, and it’s graduation season for the toddlers, and family is in town, so for this installment of the blog, we will talk about both Looker and Tableau together, as they’re in the same space.

So without further ado, here are my quick takeaways from both acquisitions:

1/ “Not Another BI Startup?” This phrase is a common refrain among many startup investors. And, there is some truth to it — there are plenty of “BI tools” and “analytics/dashboard” companies that were started and funded. It was a red ocean. Fast-forward to June 2019, and two BI companies were purchased for close to $18B combined. Of course, Tableau and Looker do much more than just “BI” but I’m sure there are a number of early founding teams and Continue reading “Quickly Unpacking The Looker And Tableau Acquisitions”

Quickly Unpacking The $1.4B Acquisition of Harry’s


This post is by Semil Shah from Haystack.vc


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Believe it or not, this will now be the second blog post on this site about a billion-dollar exit for a shaving-related startup. It was just about three years ago when the startup world learned that Unilever had decided to plunk down a cool $1B to buy LA’s Dollar Shave Club. Fast-forward to today, and we have a smaller conglomerate, Edgewell, paying a mix of cash and stock for NYC’s Harry’s. Any billion-dollar liquidity event is a rare event, so it will get the Haystack blog treatment.

Here are five (5) quick takeaways from the deal:

1/ Double-Down: What were the chances that one of the first really big direct-to-consumer (DTC) startup outcomes would be for razors? Perhaps one could have had a 20% chance of predicting that. Okay, I’ll give you that. But then, what would be the chances that there would be yet another, second exit in the Continue reading “Quickly Unpacking The $1.4B Acquisition of Harry’s”

Mapping The Haystack Portfolio Across The United States


This post is by Semil Shah from Haystack.vc


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Hello. It has been a while since I’ve posted here, nearly 3 months. My fingers are well-rested, but my writing prowess is likely rusty, so please forgive any rustiness in this post. I do plan to write a lot more this summer, so stay tuned. In March and April this year, I was on the road a lot — all fun and productive work trips, but also distracting; if the past two months were about being out there and extroverted, I feel a huge wave of introversion coming as the summer comes into focus. I’ve also been working on a project that I cannot yet discuss publicly, but that will be over soon, and we can resume regularly scheduled programming on this site.

Today, I am excited to share some data on the Haystack portfolio as it relates to geography. Over the past year, and especially over the last few

Continue reading “Mapping The Haystack Portfolio Across The United States”

The Story Behind Our Investment In SecondMeasure


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About 3.5 years ago, we met Michael and Lillian from SecondMeasure while they were in Y Combinator. We were lucky to invest not only during this time, but also doubled down in an extension. And this week, the company announced it had raised a super-sized $20M Series A financing co-led by Kent Bennett from Bessemer Venture Partners and also Goldman Sachs. (The round was completed last fall, but announced this week.)

SecondMeasure if a unique company that also boasts a unique customer set. SecondMeasure’s technology empowers its customers to drill into consumer spending behaviors from a number of angles. With over 150 customers now, they range from financial institutions such as VC and PE firms, consumer product companies, and media organizations. These customers leverage SecondMeasure to analyze and cross-analyze how consumers are spending their cash, but going deeper, the platform enables customers to analyze rate of growth, cohort Continue reading “The Story Behind Our Investment In SecondMeasure”

Amazon “Swipes Left” On New York City


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Start spreading the news, indeed. Today, Amazon announced it will entirely abandon its plans to build its second headquarters (a/k/a “HQ2”) in Long Island City, a residential neighborhood in the borough of Queens, New York City. There’s no need for me to mince words here: This is a huge, huge development. It is shocking, really. I believe this will be talked about for months, which in today’s news cycle is saying something. But, it happened, and we have to step back for a moment and reflect on what got us here. So, here is my attempt to do that — for the record, I believe NYC made a huge mistake, but also that Amazon should’ve picked a different (and smaller) city to begin with. Here is what I take away from this breaking news:

1/ “The Decision” was not a great look for LeBron nor Amazon. I like LeBron now, Continue reading “Amazon “Swipes Left” On New York City”

The Story Behind Our Investment In Fiddler Labs


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This is the story of how we invested in Fiddler Labs. At the beginning of 2018, we almost invested in a startup with two strong founders. To make a long and private story short, on the morning I was about to call the founders to let them know I was in, they decided to amicably part ways. I was stunned, but also relieved it happened then and not much later. A few months passed, and we ended up investing in the company with one of the original founders. And, a few months after that, we heard the other founder came up with a new idea, and we had to scramble to chase him down. I’m glad we did.

My old friend Krishna Gade and his new co-founder, Amit Paka, were teaming up to build a new startup in one of the most exciting technology spaces out there today — Continue reading “The Story Behind Our Investment In Fiddler Labs”

Quickly Unpacking Spotify’s Acquisition Of Gimlet Media


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I’ve been traveling all week, digging out of email, and closing two deals and — hence — have been pretty quiet online. As I was scrolling through Twitter today and saw the rumors around Gimlet, the podcast media company, being acquired by Spotify for $200M in cash, I knew I had to stop, write this post, and share some thoughts on what’s going on. So, here goes…

Well, actually, before I begin, this post needs a few disclaimers. One, I am a huge podcast nut and listen to podcasts more than I watch TV or movies, and some weeks, even music. Two, despite my love for podcasts, I did not invest in podcast apps or companies (aside from Vsporto, which I was drawn to for different reasons related to app constellations) for reasons I’ll share below — including Gimlet. To underscore here, I hope I am proven wrong on these Continue reading “Quickly Unpacking Spotify’s Acquisition Of Gimlet Media”

Reflecting On Haystack’s Investment In HelloSign (Acquired By Dropbox)


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Over five years ago, as I began to deploy the first Haystack Fund, I was lucky to select HelloSign as my sixth investment ever. I discovered the product much like you might have – I used it to help handle the paperwork and signatures for the new fund. I had a friend who worked there (thanks Joel Andren!) and he was patient and over time found the right time to introduce me to Joseph Walla, one of the company’s cofounders. I took Joseph out for lunch, told him about me and Haystack, and asked to invest in the company.

Ultimately, Joseph invited me into the seed round. That turned out to be a good lunch. At that time, back in 2013, Docusign was known to be a well-performing company. In early 2014, Docusign became a unicorn and eventually went IPO in 2018 at a whopping $4.5B price tag. Continue reading “Reflecting On Haystack’s Investment In HelloSign (Acquired By Dropbox)”

Bites At The Apple, Sharpshooting, And Shots On Goal


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More often than not, I believe it is largely impossible to predict the shape of an outcome when making an initial venture investment. Investors, of course, will conduct significant due diligence, investigate sources, study trends and the competition — and much more. But, at the end of day, the future is unknown and needs to unfurl naturally. The insight and data venture investors have to work with increases as a company matures — the earlier the investment, the more unknown the outcome is.

I’ve been thinking about this nearly immutable law of investing lately, specifically, as I crudely demarcate three distinct areas of investing: I/ Venture Seed, or before the Series A; II/ The Series A and Series B rounds; and III/ Venture Growth. Within each category, I believe there is an inherent tradeoff between information at the time of investment and the ability to approximate future value creation.

As Continue reading “Bites At The Apple, Sharpshooting, And Shots On Goal”

Fund Investing Versus Fund Management


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When I started out investing (via a fund — not my money), I was just investing based on a simple schedule: About once a month, invest $25K into one company I liked. Pretty easy. Over the years, that check size grew slowly to $50K, then a few $100Ks, and I followed-on into a few at the $250K level, with two outsized pile-ins at $400K and $600K total exposure, respectively. That escalation from $25K back in 2013 took a little over four years.

I consciously took that ramp slowly because I found it was easy to trick myself into thinking going faster and bigger would be straight-forward. As a result of going more slowly, I had the time to make a few mistakes to learn some lessons, but the mistakes were never too big to leave a massive crater in the total value of the portfolio. The trick with these experiments Continue reading “Fund Investing Versus Fund Management”

The Parlay


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In gambling, particularly in sports, there’s a concept of “parlay.” The word can be used as a verb (“turn an initial stake or winnings from a previous bet into (a greater amount) by gambling”) or a noun (“a cumulative series of bets in which winnings accruing from each transaction are used as a stake for a further bet”). The more I discover about going beyond just writing checks into startups — concepts like portfolio construction, cross-fund management, and new fund formation — the more I realize how critical the parlay is.

Let’s focus on the noun first. In the NFL, for instance, you can make a series of connected bets that, if you’re right, can hit the parlay — the more games in the parlay, the bigger the payout. Picking the right 5 or 6 lottery numbers that show up on TV is a form of a parlay, albeit Continue reading “The Parlay”

Deal Opacity


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When I moved back to the Bay Area in early 2011, the technology and startup sector didn’t feel as big or expansive as it does today. In that time, Twitter was just getting its sea legs, the Quora private beta was one of the hottest tickets in town, and TechCrunch was the de facto powerhouse in tech/startup media attention. During this time, when we didn’t really understand the stakes of what technology would hold for us all, it was relatively easy to know the investments made by the top VC funds — they’d either announce them on TechCrunch, or the early reporters at TechCrunch would somehow find out which deals were hotly contested and doing well.

Back then, there were fewer deals, smaller funds, and relatively speaking, more deal transparency.

Now, contrast 2011 with 2019, and we have an entirely different situation. Today, the stakes related to technology investment Continue reading “Deal Opacity”

Looking Ahead, Predictions For 2019


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Alright, here we go. My predictions for 2019. I am not great at these “looking ahead” posts. We all know the unknown will happen. Looking at my post last year, it wasn’t that great — and my take on crypto was proven wrong. Ok, let’s move on…for 2019’s prediction, I tried to keep it simple and cook up big questions that are on most peoples’ minds, and offer my two cents on them.

As to 2019…here are the big FAQs out there:

When will companies start going public? I predict: soon! Well, actually, quite a few tech companies IPO’d in 2018, though many of those are a bit underwater now given December’s public market volatility. That’s still OK given the IPO is more of a financing event than anything else, right? Many of the companies who are waiting for 2019-20 are likely wanting to file papers (or already have) and Continue reading “Looking Ahead, Predictions For 2019”

Looking Back On Tech, Startups, And VC In 2018


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It’s that time of year, time to look back and reflect on the most significant storylines in the tech, startup, and VC world. A comprehensive post on this topic could be 5,000+ words, but we do not do such things here. We kept detailed notes month by month and today, I tried to organize them by key sections, what you’ll see below. There’s a good chance I’ve missed something — if you feel that way, by all means, please share your point of view on Twitter (or email) and link to the post.

And, with that warning, I offer to you, the big stories in the startup and investing ecosystem of 2018, written in ascending order of importance and magnitude…

6/ Venture Capital In Expansion Phase

Technology is, like water, flowing and seeping into nearly every sector and eventually into most of the global economy. And as more economies worldwide Continue reading “Looking Back On Tech, Startups, And VC In 2018”

Hot Deals And Good Deals


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In the lexicon of startup investors, there’s a term I’ve felt needs to be unpacked a bit: “A good deal.” What is a good deal, really?

Is a good deal one that’s hot or competitive? Is that a sign of goodness? Or ones that are proprietary, where one or a few investors see it before others and have the option to do it first? Are those good deals? Is it a good deal if an investor can buy ownership for a cheap or reasonable amount? Given that ownership and multiples are what drive venture portfolio returns, does that qualify as the most important marker? Or what about deals which have hung out in the market too long, gone stale, and which could be the victim of adverse selection?

What I’ve observed in conversations among each other or with LPs, investors will often revert back to this term “good deals” Continue reading “Hot Deals And Good Deals”

“Your Portfolio Is Your Path”


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You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You are what you eat. About a year ago, I tracked down a VC who gave a talk I heard about where he referenced the phrase “Your portfolio is your path,” it stuck out in my mind because amid all the noise, it was simple, brief, and yet still open to interpretation. We hung out and I asked him about the entire talk he gives (a subject for another post, if he agrees to it), but this one a small portion of it and I think OK to share.

“Your portfolio is your path.”

At least in the Bay Area, it’s now considerably easier to get into the investing ecosystem at some level and start to make small investments. It could be a micro-fund, or being a scout, or working at a larger fund with Continue reading ““Your Portfolio Is Your Path””

Opportunity Amid Volatility


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It’s an unusual time in the markets. With high levels of public market volatility — the first we’ve seen in the age of social media and true real-time information — it feels like everyone and their grandmom is expecting a downturn. “We’re in the nth year of an unbelievable bull market!” “Most of the country doesn’t have any savings!” “Multiples and valuations are out of control!” “When the tide goes out, we’ll see who is swimming naked!” Pick your favorite doomsday one-liner, and it’s likely to fit the conversation. Then you have real successful professional investors like Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio who can dig deep into “the why” of now — read his latest post here, it’s quite good.

Much of this can trickle down into the startup ecosystem. There are many reasons for that, such as private equity and crossover investors investing earlier, or the Continue reading “Opportunity Amid Volatility”

Planning And Strategery Over The Holidays


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The end of the year and holidays in general are, at least for me, a time to plan out the next year. Sure, as Mike Tyson mused, everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face, but even if that punch is coming, having the time and space to let my brain rest a bit and mill around the house (even with kids and their chaos) let’s me think about what I want to focus on the next year and what I want to eliminate. I’m sure many of you reading this do some version of the same. It’s really the only time of year in the startup and investing world left.

Some folks entirely unplug in the evening, more do it for the weekends and even in the holidays. I find that hard to do, personally. In many ways, work/email has eaten into the evening-share minutes at home. Continue reading “Planning And Strategery Over The Holidays”

Risk And Reward


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I’ve been thinking about the timeless phrase, “risk and reward.” Entrepreneurs and investors both need risk in order to reap a reward. Of course, founders and early employees often take very different risks than investors do. There are always examples to break the rules, too — successful, repeat founders who become LPs in funds and/or invest on the side (even on a side fund), or investors who branch out on their own to start their own franchises. Whatever the blend, I still contend the following should be true: In any endeavor, the protagonist(s) of the story should take the first risk.

In a decade since the Global Financial Crisis, the availability of cash for startups in the Bay Area has increased to never-before-seen levels. A decade after Airbnb and Uber were founded, into the first decade of seeing Facebook and Amazon shoot past $500B market caps, society-at-large now knows Continue reading “Risk And Reward”

Briefly Reflecting On The Last Year


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With 2018 winding down, I’ve finally gotten some downtime to digest the big changes I’ve personally undergone this year. They’re all good changes. After years of having pretty bad luck, I feel as if I have gotten a bit too lucky. Today is the day I begin to write my annual “Reflecting On 2018” post for tech, startups, and VC — but I don’t think I can get my mind in a place to do that work until I clear my brain first.

This year, our family (and me personally) went through some foundational changes. On the work front, I had the opportunity to join Lightspeed as a venture partner; and with Haystack, the seed fund I launched in 2013, Haystack finally recruited incredible help to come onboard, Haystack became slightly more institutional in nature (including fund infrastructure, leading deals selectively, etc.) and Haystack began to lay the foundation Continue reading “Briefly Reflecting On The Last Year”