C2V May 2021 Notes from the Trenches

Welcome friends! It’s 75 and sunny here in NY, we’re meeting with other humans in person (and we can even see their faces!), we have a new company to talk about and our second fund is nearly up and running. Not even the 28 - 0 shellacking Matt’s softball team took the other night (or their 0 - 4 start) can bring us down.

We’re excited to introduce you to our new company, Copper, but first…

Putting the Unicorn Out to Pasture

According to the internet (so we’re at least 50% sure this is accurate), the first use of the term “unicorn” to describe billion-dollar-plus startups was in a 2013 TechCrunch post by Aileen Lee, Founder and Managing Partner of Cowboy Ventures. Since then it’s had as good a run as any moniker (google the word and you’ll see more links related to startups than to horses with horns), but eight years later, its time has passed.

When Ms. Lee coined the term unicorn in 2013, there were an estimated 39 startups that fit the description; today there are 682, including 50 that first reached “unicorn” status in March of this year alone. The 125 newly minted private unicorns in the first 80 days of 2021 are more than all last year, and that doesn’t include the 51 exits of $1 billion or more in this year’s first 3 months.

Data from CB Insights & C2V Research

Bottom line – there is no longer anything “unusual, rare or unique” (Webster’s definition of a unicorn) about a $1 billion startup valuation.

So where do we go from here?

We suggest changing the $1 billion designation to the “White Tail Deer”:

1) The reaction most people have to seeing a deer in their neighborhood and to reading about that day’s newest $1 billion valuation are similar. You generally stop and admire them for a second (but only a second) and most likely forget about it 10 minutes later.

2) Much like today’s $1 billion startup cohort, in a lot of cities and suburbs there are now way too many deer, most of whom are slowly dying as they fight over a resource pool that can’t sustain them all, gradually destroying their ecosystems in the process, and occasionally running into traffic, causing real destruction and ending up a mangled mess on the side of the road.

It’s not glamorous, but it’s not wrong either. You had a nice run, unicorn, have fun on the golf course.

Our Latest Investment

Copper is a "smart" IoT printer cord containing a tiny Linux computer, that replaces the existing cord connecting any Point-of-Sale (“POS”) terminal to its receipt printer.

This simple swap out of a single cord takes less than a minute to complete and instantly upgrades any legacy POS systems to a cloud-connected platform in addition to adding a QR code to each receipt, enabling contactless payments and bill splitting. Restaurant owners can then access, visualize and download historical sales, SKU and other receipt data by date, customer name, table number, employee, etc., allowing them to optimize their business and menu offerings.

The true genius of Copper’s product, however, is that does not require a full POS system overhaul. Among other advantages this:

  1. Removes a significant barrier to sales conversions, as many restaurants are reluctant to change hardware for a number of reasons, including the non-trivial time and effort required to retrain its low-skilled and highly mobile labor force, and

  2. Allows Copper to partner with both the existing POS hardware providers and payment processors who still control roughly 80% of the market, leveraging them as sales channel partners, rather than having to go to each business directly as Toast, Square and other cloud-data POS companies must do (making scaling significantly easier and more cost-efficient).

Copper’s wifi-enabled smart cable also interfaces directly with third-party online ordering platforms (e.g., Seamless, GrubHub), eliminating the need for multiple hardware devices in the kitchen and the manual step of re-keying online orders into their current POS system.

As brick and mortar merchants increasingly adopt data science tools to help them compete with ecommerce, smart POS systems will eventually become ubiquitous, and we see Copper as a better, more easily scalable version of this than what is currently available.

Portfolio Companies in the News

Other C2V News

The Superpowers podcast is back! Season 3 kicks off this week with Chris’s interview of Kara Goldin, Founder and CEO of Hint Water.

Want even more C2V? We thought so.  Check us out on:

C2V Apr 2021 Notes from the Trenches

Welcome back friends!  Hope you are all feeling as good as we are with spring’s arrival, little league in full swing, and hopefully either fully vaxxed or half way home. We believe this spring and summer is going to see some steam being let off, so brace (and pace) yourselves.

Sorry, that was too much. Let’s try that again…

Much better.

On to the latest in C2V Land…

End of an Era/Dawn of Another

We are pleased to share that our debut fund, C2V Capital Partners I, closed on our 19th and final company, Abode, a prop-tech software company out of Chicago, (more on Abode below).

C2V Capital Partners I Thus Far...

In a short period we have seen an exit to Peloton and 5 significant mark-ups in our fund thanks to rounds of investments led by a group of top tier venture funds.  

We are bullish on the promise and opportunities ahead as our portfolio company’s grow and a few of our founders have already experienced their hardest days and emerged wiser, stronger and even better prepared to scale.

Portfolio Construction By the Numbers

Stage: Seed (16), Pre-Seed (2), Bridge/Pre-A (1)

Location: New York (13), Chicago, Boston,  Helsinki (2), Reno, Toronto

Vertical: Enterprise SaaS (11), Robotics (2), Sustainability (3), Health & Wellness (3)

LP Portfolio Company Support:

  • Intros & Referrals (Commercial, Capital, Talent, Advisory): 127

  • Co-Investments: 22 

Where Do We Go From Here?

We will soon launch our Fund II, backed by some of the best founders, CEOs and operators we could wish for, many of whom are the same group of LP's that have made C2V stand out as they get into the trenches with our companies and in some cases support Matt and Chris on diligence (not to mention faithfully reading our monthly missives). 

This really is a community like no other and in our humble opinion that’s what it takes at this stage of venture.   

What’s in a (Startup) Name?

Before we get to Abode (keep reading, it's a good one),  we wanted to point you to one of our more fun reflections on our Fund I journey. 

One of our favorite side benefits to sifting through our weekly pile of new deal flow (625 or so in the past 18 months) are the names founders choose for their companies. 

Many are fairly straightforward, some quite clever, some confusing, and others completely off the rails, but we love them all (especially the last two categories). 

So, please check out our Medium post where we share some favorites along with our attempt to guess at what each company does.  

For example…

3D Bear A drug you're offered at a club and by no means should ever accept

Ancient Ritual Let’s just say their wifi password is "Fidelio" and leave it at that

RocketFarm Not sure if this is the place where the really good weed comes from or the place where they grew William Shatner, but either way, I'm all in.

Of note: many of these are great companies and awesome founders.  This is not a knock on them just having fun with the names. 

 Our Latest Investment

Abode is a new prop-tech company with a unique solution for home builders, large institutions, and DIY home sellers to list, market, and sell their homes at a fraction of the cost of traditional brokers. Unlike previous prop-tech models, Abode is not seeking to create a captive marketplace of buyers and sellers, but rather it has built a platform that enables the rapid listing of thousands of homes on the relevant Multiple Listing Services (“MLS”) nationwide.

We believe this leveraging of the MLS infrastructure is a key differentiator (and one not easily replicated), as MLS is already a ubiquitous platform within the US real estate market, used almost exclusively by buy-side brokers and many of the online marketplaces (e.g., Zillow) to find available listings for prospective buyers.  

MLS listing capability gives Abode built-in scale from day-one, with sellers knowing that their listings will immediately be available to nearly every potential buyer (unlike other DIY services whose potential buyers are limited to their own site’s traffic).  This built-in buyer reach also significantly reduces customer acquisition costs, providing a one-stop shop for bulk listings by large-volume sellers (e.g., banks, REITs, other DIY marketplaces).

In addition to listing fees, Abode earns revenue through referrals to a number of complimentary pre- and post-transaction goods and services providers (e.g, mortgage lenders, title insurance companies, movers, home furnishings retailers, etc) and the potential for scale is massive.  Annual RE brokerage commissions total $165bn per year in the US alone, and the for-sale-by-owner (“FSBO”) market is still in its nascent stages.  According to the 2020 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, FSBOs recently accounted for only 8% of home sales, and only 6% of those homes were listed on an MLS. 

We’re excited to welcome Abode to the C2V family!

Portfolio Companies in the News

Other C2V News

Want even more C2V? We thought so.  Check us out on:

C2V Mar 2021 Notes from the Trenches

Welcome friends!  A year later, with vaccinations accelerating and the end hopefully in sight, we thought we’d look back at our earlier Covid content and see how we did. But first, a quick look at our newest investment.

Portfolio Spotlight: Armilla AI

Our newest investment, Armilla is an AI governance platform that tests models for inherent bias and identifies the root causes of any such biases.  Findings are presented via a simple UI that is customized to fit industry audit templates and is tailored for use by both non-technical compliance officers and developers.  

Organizations in several industries are increasingly grappling with reputational risks from deploying AI models that have not been sufficiently tested, as well as lost ROI due to R&D initiatives deemed too risky to deploy, and at the same time, AI models continue to grow in complexity and volume. Additionally, model validation is predominantly a manual exercise today and unable to keep up with the complexity of current development processes. 

Armilla’s platform allows models to be tested in a matter of hours, vetting both the models themselves and the underlying datasets.  Their software automatically profiles models for performance, accuracy, feature importance, fairness, and bias, as well as the impact of test, training and production data on model outputs.  Armilla is also able to continuously monitor ongoing performance, accuracy and algorithmic accountability by detecting errors, drifts, changes and anomalies in production models, and presents its findings in pre-built formats consistent with industry audit templates with which both non-technical compliance analysts and regulators are already familiar.  

Armilla’s initial target market is the financial industry, as it is among the most experienced sectors in using predictive algorithms and is also by far the most heavily regulated, with AI-model bias already a major pain point, both reputational and financial.

Covid Content Review

Since this is a time of optimism, we’ll go from our highest to lowest grades:

  1. 5 Reasons Now is a Great Time to Buy Equities (and Venture Capital Funds) - Published March 17, 2020

Forgive Matt’s victory lap here, but this really is an all-timer and there’s roughly a 0% chance he ever nails a prediction like this again. 

The morning we published this post, the NASDAQ Composite opened at 6,905, a mere 0.6% above its lowest close of the pandemic and 4.0% above its intraday low, both of which came only 4 trading days later.  If anyone tells you they’ve bottom-ticked a market selloff more closely than that, they’re definitely lying. 

Since then, the NASDAQ is up a staggering 93.7% (as of Monday’s close), and while it’s too early to know whether Matt’s prediction will pan out for venture funds, judging by recent private and IPO valuations, we feel pretty good about that as well. 

Here’s hoping you took Matt’s advice and are now sipping champagne on your new yacht.

Grade: A+

  1. What Does a Post-COVID-19 Early Stage Venture World Look Like?- Published June 17, 2020

While any venture prediction realistically needs 3 - 5 years to fully play out, early returns on many of Chris’s prognostications look good.  Among them:

The rise of streaming OTT content, video conferencing and home fitness. 

Check out the stock charts for Netflix, Zoom and Peloton, as well as the number of new streaming service launches and home fitness exits

“Funding has been and will continue to be available…The investor community is alive and well, and… we expect to see some excellent companies get funded post this period.”  

Likewise for venture funding and IPOs (including SPACs) over the past 9 months

“Automation will finally truly have its day in the sun.”

The recent spate of SaaS IPOs certainly seems to be supportive of this and we’re seeing the same in our portfolio, with sales of software and robotics solutions continuing to accelerate.

Grade: A-

  1. 5 Lessons From the Lockdown - Published April 20, 2020

While Matt is still cringing from the realization that he wrote a wrap piece 2 months into what will likely end up being an 18-month pandemic (you have to admire his optimism, though?), his lessons still look pretty good:

1. It Can Happen Here

2. Data and Transparency Are Critical

3. Uncertainty is Always Worse Than Bad News

4. Don’t Politicize Everything

5. Do Not Spread Misinformation

Of course, the “Bonus Lesson” is a nice example of just how much he jumped the gun on this one:

Bonus Lesson: Carole Baskin is a Historically Horrific Human Being

Anyone even remember who Carole Baskin is at this point? 

Content Grade: B+

Timing Grade: F-

Portfolio Companies in the News

Peloton just announced its December acquisition of our home fitness company Otari.

Our electric mobility company, Tarfrom, who is currently raising a Series A round to begin delivering electric motorcycles against a 12-month+ pre-order book, was recently featured in Men's Journal and in a New York 1 TV spot (in which you can see some footage of their Luna model in action).  

Beam, our DTC wellness company launched Elevate, their new hydration product line, which was featured in Maxim and is now available on Amazon in addition to Beam’s webstore.  

Our airline revenue management software company, Kambr, recently signed its 5th airline, AirAsia, a Top 50 global carrier. 

Portfolio Company Job Openings

Following their recently closed Series A round that we led, and which includes professional athletes (and Beam product enthusiasts) Baker Mayfield, Danica Patricka and Billy Horschel, Beam is hiring for a number of positions.  

Roles and details are below and you can also email Beam directly at people@beamtlc.com.

Director of Accounting

Web Developer

Data Analyst

Want even more C2V? We thought so.  Check us out on:

C2V Feb 2021 Notes from the Trenches

Welcome friends!  While it is a bit ironic that only a couple of weeks removed from Groundhog Day, we’re breaking a multi-month streak of opening with commentary on highly sensitive social or political happenings, it’s also a great relief, and we couldn’t be more excited to return to our bread and butter: good old-fashioned venture minutiae (but please don’t stop reading; this will be interesting, we promise).  

This month, rather than subject Chris to another of his curmudgeonly takes, Matt decided to let the whole world share in Chris’s pain with a blog post/grumpy old man rant on the increasingly unhinged late-stage venture and IPO markets.   

We’d encourage you to check out the full post for additional commentary and supporting data (plus lots of colorful, USA Today-style charts and graphs), but here are some of the high-level questions Matt seeks to answer:

  • Is the tech IPO market giving off a whiff of that unpleasant 1999/2000 odor?  (Spoiler alert: sure looks like it)

  • Are companies that are years (maybe decades) away from making money already trading at valuations that would qualify them for the S&P 100?  (Spoiler alert: ‘fraid so)

  • Is Matt alone on Incredulous Island?  (Spoiler alert: not quite, but it’s definitely a buyer-friendly real estate market)

  • Are these crazy valuations ubiquitous across the tech sector, or highly concentrated in recently listed, venture-backed companies?  (Spoiler alert: the latter)

  • Is there something nefarious in this?  (Spoiler alert: sorry, not touching this one)

  • What’s driving these excesses?  (Spoiler alert: all-time highs in the share of total venture funding allocated to $1bn+ “mega-funds” and $50mm+ “mega-rounds”)

  • Are SPACs the answer?  (Spoiler alert: No!  In fact, they’re actually dumping a staggering volume of gas on the fire)

  • Will this end?  (Spoiler alert: it always does; usually not well)

  • Will this end soon?  (Spoiler alert: probably not – VC dry powder is also at all-time highs and the 2021 SPAC class has already raised more than half of its completely insane 2020 full-year total in 6 weeks)

  • Is there nowhere to turn for value in the venture/tech space?  (Spoiler alert: Of course not!  The early-stage has never looked better!  Seed and Pre-Seed rounds (and funds) are historically underfunded and median pre-money valuations for these early rounds are actually declining!)

Bottom line: The late-stage venture and IPO markets are as crowded a trade as you’ll ever see and crowded trades usually don’t unwind gracefully.  Meanwhile, the increasingly ignored and underfunded early-stage might be the only place left to find value in tech.  

Are we inherently biased on this topic?  Undoubtedly.  Does that mean we’re wrong?  Well, you tell us, but we think our evidence is pretty compelling.  

Portfolio Spotlight: Koffie Labs

Co-founded by Ian White (CEO), a serial entrepreneur and data product specialist, and Mike Dorfman (COO), a 3rd generation executive at his family’s trucking insurance brokerage, Koffie is an insurtech focused on reinventing the $30 billion commercial trucking insurance market.  The company came out of stealth mode yesterday, formally announcing their $4.5 million August 2020 seed round (in which we participated) led by Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Anthemis Group.  

As regular readers know, enterprise solutions for old-economy industries with outdated technology and stagnant productivity is a core investment focus for C2V, and the commercial trucking insurance space is in as dire a need of technological advancement as any we’ve seen thus far.   Over the past decade, legacy underwriting models have failed to keep pace with the actual risk-drivers in the market, leading to consistent losses for insurers.  Rather than reimagining their largely heuristic models and leverage advancements in data-modeling technology, trucking insurers have simply raised premiums year after year, squeezing already thin fleet profit margins, and forcing some out of business entirely.

Using a proprietary, real-time data set that includes telematics and advanced safety technology features for 14 million trucks (nearly every truck currently in service), Koffie’s AI-driven predictive models underwrite dozens of safety features, rewarding fleets that invest in safety with discounted insurance premiums, while drastically improving underwriting loss ratios.  

Koffie’s streamlined and fully digital platform also condenses the previously cumbersome underwriting process from weeks to minutes (greatly improving both customer service and operating costs) and its models are already built to incorporate emerging risks like self-driving vehicles.

As the third-largest cost for trucking companies (behind fuel and labor), the insurance market is highly price-sensitive, and we expect Koffie’s underwriting advancements to allow the company to quickly and profitability take market share from legacy players.  

Superpowers Pod 2.0

We’re back and better than ever! The Superpowers Podcast is back for Season 3, but with an updated look and feel. Chris had an epic two seasons with his friend Bill, who he will miss, but will now take on season 3 solo, meeting with amazing guests to discuss their superpowers and how it has served them throughout their life and career. Head over to the Superpowers website to find our previous episodes and follow us on our socials for updates on the release of the new season.

Beam News

Just last week, Beam announced they’ve raised $5M in Series A financing. We were excited to lead Beam’s Series A round, which also included The Yard Ventures, Litani Ventures, Obvious Ventures, Camwood Capital, and a group of amazing professional athletes. This news came alongside the launch of their new hydration line, Elevate. Elevate is a powdered stick hydration mix and is Beam’s first non-CBD wellness product category. We’re incredibly excited to see Beam, the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer wellness brand, continue to expand! Join Chris Cunningham alongside Matt Lombardi and Kevin Moran, co-founders of Beam, as they discuss fundraising and investing in startups. Thursday, February 25 at 4 pm PST on Clubhouse.  

Press & Social Updates

  • As AirAsia aims for streamlined revenue management, they’ve enlisted the help of Kambr’s Eddy Software. Eddy is a forward-looking, revenue management software that brings greater flexibility and efficiency. This partnership is only the beginning of a new era for the future of airlines and Kambr technology.

  • Expectful recently announced they have raised $4.2M. This new funding will go towards fulfilling their mission of supporting new mothers as they evolve the company into a “go-to wellness resource for hopeful, expecting, and new parents.”

  • Petal Card has shared news that the gender mix among their employees is now 50/50, women and men! Within tech and finance fields gender parity is still rare, but Petal has pushed to change that by actively working to close the gap. 

  • In the latest installment of #InTheTrenches, we discuss maintaining your relationships. More than anything, stick with your relationships through thick and thin. Though they may not serve you at the moment, you never know when that connection will resurface - possibly in a way you never imagined before. Check us out on Instagram for more of the C2V perspective. 

Want even more C2V? Check us out on:

C2V Jan 2021 Notes from the Trenches

After a turbulent 11 months, culminating in a bout of (ahem) insurrectile dysfunction, it seems we might finally be on the upswing. With vaccine production and distribution ramping up and talk from both political parties of unity, collaboration, and a move to the center that (hopefully) brings with it a return to a more rational, civilized approach to settling ideological disagreements, we thought it would make sense to take stock of the new administration’s initial actions and what they might mean for the world of tech startups.

The top priorities thus far appear to be a more aggressive pandemic response, re-engaging with our allies while dialing back various trade wars, and putting decades’ long efforts to reduce the human impact on the environment back on the rails.  

  • An end to the pandemic will of course have the most immediate and pronounced effect on any company that is tied to travel, hospitality, events, and other sectors that involve close personal contact. This will be a particular boon for Kambr, our airline revenue management software company, which was able to onboard multiple new customers during the pandemic and, having recently closed a new funding round, is poised to see that growth accelerate.

  • The end of the pandemic will also have a marked impact on global manufacturing and supply chains, as will the end of populist, anti-trade rhetoric and activity. This will benefit all manner of consumer goods and hardware companies, including C2V companies, Rens (sustainable apparel), Somatic (commercial cleaning robotics), Tarform (electric mobility), StepOne Tech (automotive flex-fuel conversion tech), and Civ Robotics (construction surveying robotics).

  • Finally, and perhaps most profoundly (particularly in the long-run), the renewed environmental focus at the federal level will provide a further boost to all manner of eco-friendly products (e.g., Rens) and emissions-reducing tech (e.g., StepOne and Tarform). This has been a core focus for C2V as there has been a clear secular trend toward eco-friendliness at the consumer and enterprise levels, and we’re excited to see what a further policy boost will mean for these sectors.

C2V’s Newest Investment - Blutag

Another secular trend that we’ve been keeping an eye on (independent of pandemic or policy developments) is the rise of voice-driven ecommerce. In 2019, 10.8% of all digital shoppers in the US made purchases using smart speakers, and voice commerce is on track to hit $40 billion by 2022, growing twice as fast as mobile commerce.

The bulk of voice-based shopping thus far has been through Amazon Alexa, as independent retailers lack the skill set to participate in this changing consumer behavior. Enter Blutag, a turnkey SaaS solution that connects to existing e-commerce platforms and delivers rich voice commerce experiences on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Blutag’s product offering also includes an ML algorithm that provides a variety of insights on customer behaviors, product bundling, and other tools to help users grow AOVs and customer retention. 

Blutag currently covers roughly 90% of the ecommerce market via integrations with most of the major DTC platforms (e.g., Shopify, Google Shopping, etc.). The company has already seen excellent traction with big brands (Bloomingdales, L’Oreal, FreshDirect, Rothy’s, Nomad), which have reported increases of 11% or more in shopping cart sizes from customers who place orders through their smart speakers.

The company offers a free version in addition to 3 subscription tiers, allowing retailers to try out the platform before upgrading to the more scalable subscription versions, which brands can install themselves from the company’s website.

We are thrilled to welcome Blutag to the C2V community!

Portfolio Company Highlights

Before closing out the January newsletter, we wanted to discuss something we were recently asked about. C2V is incredibly proud of our diverse founders. Their wide range of backgrounds and experiences is what makes them so unique. As we head into 2021, we want to focus on highlighting them, not only from the vertical perspective, but also their individual profiles. 

While we don’t have demographic-based targets, we think our approach to finding the best companies organically creates healthy diversity and inclusion within our founder community. Among our 17 portfolio companies, only 4 were founded exclusively by white, American men.  Our diverse founder group includes multiple black, Indian, female, and Asian founders, as well as a range of nationalities from Ukraine, to Vietnam, and many places in between.

We believe it's important to continue having conversations around diversity, as well as elevating those voices and ideas which often go unheard. For another perspective, check out this article with insights from C2V founder, Kristen Sonday.

Press & Social Updates

  • Just last week, Kambr announced some major news. They recently closed their latest seed round of $3 million, bringing their total funding to $7 million. As they continue to expand, so does their team, with the addition of Sean Moriarty as CTO. At a time when the airline industry is in flux, Kambr’s exceptional value proposition has allowed the company to secure contracts with 5 global airlines.

  • In a recent article with Sportscasting, Cleveland Browns’ quarterback, Baker Mayfield, credited his improved performance to Beam. Their clean, innovative products are favorites among top athletes. As a Beam partner and investor, Mayfield is one of many who has discovered just how incredible their products are and has incorporated them into his daily life. 

  • StepOne Tech Ltd. has been recognized by The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 as one of the top 50 fastest growing technology companies in Finland. In addition, CEO, Tuomo Isokivijärvi, will be featured as their keynote speaker, discussing the challenges of scaling up a cleantech company, implementing new technology for global markets, and building the right team. 

  • Bloomberg Law has partnered with Paladin to provide pro bono lawyers with 90 days of complimentary access to their platform. This partnership will provide attorneys with access to a vast array of research services, as well as other resources that are critical in achieving the best outcome for their clients.

Need more C2V? Follow our social channels for the latest news and updates:

Loading more posts…