Enterprise & Deep Tech Weekly
Issue #137: For the week ended March 29, 2022
Success can be about less than you think
A recent conversation with a CEO/founder I respect greatly illustrated the pitfalls of pushing too hard on too many targets all at once. The CEO raised a seed round and is planning to be “Series A” ready by the end of the year. To him, Series A ready means hitting a number of ambitious targets all at the same time: (1) revenues at a certain level, (2) a meaningful number of design partners, (3) some great customer logos, (4) successful self-service onboarding, (5) significant progress on the product, (6) user engagement, and (7) demonstrated proof from customers that the product is adding tangible value to their bottom line in a quantifiable way, coupled with (8) detailed references from customers explaining why the product is so valuable to them. Sounds great right?
It is great. Or, more accurately, it would have been great if it was remotely possible. But a deeper conversation with the CEO revealed a few critical things that were hidden just under the surface of this otherwise brilliant plan for world domination:
First, these targets are probably simply unattainable. Without going too deep into the details of an anonymous company, you can probably tell from the list of targets that there are just too many of them. Very few companies manage to hit all of those objectives with a small seed-stage team. This is even more the case for a company that is pre-revenue and still working through challenging and critical product, tech, and UX issues. Those challenges are normal for the earliest stages — especially for the most groundbreaking companies — but they also imply that revenues and happy customers might be a bit further off.
Second, too many targets can cancel each other out if pursued simultaneously. Take for example, target #2 (multiple design partners) and target #6 (end user engagement). On an early product that is not really ready for prime time, you often have to choose between the number of design partners and the quality of those relationships. At the early stage — especially with a groundbreaking product — a small number of design partners (sometimes only one) can be enough to learn what you need to learn about the product roadmap. More design partners can be better — but only when they are engaging meaningfully and when you have the resources to devote to drive those relationships. It can be hard to learn about product design goals and repeatability at the same time.
Finally, most of these targets are irrelevant for this company at this stage. The idea of chasing eight stretch goals at the same time only makes sense on the excels and keynote slides of a junior VC somewhere. Yes, in theory, if the CEO hit all those goals, he’d be lined up for a killer Series A. But — as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In other words, your plans will disintegrate as you start dealing with the realities of actual customers in your actual product. Fortunately, hitting a few key objectives (and knocking just those out of the park) are usually enough to get you to the next level with the right investors. At Angular, we specialize in groundbreaking products: the kind few people believe can be built. Typically, the founders we work with are initially focused on proving a technical capability and/or a product capability. If the seed-stage milestones are kept tightly focused on a few key proofpoints, they should be enough to get to the next round.
Focused ambition. VCs and founders talk a lot about “ambition,” and the prevailing view is — of course — that ambition is good and more ambition is best. I’m all for ambition, but focused ambition is way more powerful and valuable than generalized vague ambition. Listing all possible “Series A” milestones can feel ambitious and empowering — but it can lead founders down a self-defeating path of trying to do too much and, thereby, failing to do the one or two key things they really need to do to derisk the company and unlock the next level. Focused ambition, on the other hand, can be a very powerful strategic tool for aligning true innovators with their customers and their investors. As you navigate the months ahead, ask yourself: what is the focused ambitious target that — if you hit it — will signal your potential to anyone who really understands what they are looking at?
If you are operating in the enterprise or deep tech domains, I’d love to hear about your focused ambition and where it will take you over the next twelve months. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Mar 31 / Skåne Startups’ Investor Chat with Angular Ventures
Gil Dibner & David Peterson, Partners at Angular Ventures
Apr 11 / How to Employ Category Design as a VC
David Peterson, Partner at Angular & Al Ramadan, CEO of PlayBigger
Jun 1 / The Importance of Culture and Values As You Scale a Business
Oren Kaniel, Co-Founder & CEO, AppsFlyer
FROM THE BLOG
Why Building a “Compound Startup” Might be the Next, Great, Non-Obvious SaaS Play
Or why “just focus” might be bad advice.
Enterprise & Deep Tech VC in Europe & Israel 2021
A data-driven look at a record-setting year.
Shifting Left, Shifting Right
Are we on the cusp of a new era of empowered non-engineers?
The Problem with Engineering-led Growth for Early Stage Startups
What kind of growth team you need to hire depends on the stage of your company.
EUROPE & ISRAEL FUNDING NEWS
Israel/SW Development. RapidAPI raised $150M for its platform offering API hubs.
UK/Financial. Credit Kudos has been acquired for $150M by Apple for its open banking credit bureau platform that measures financial behaviour and replaces traditional, narrow methods of credit assessment.
Israel/Secure Productivity. Island closed $115M for its Enterprise Browser, a web browser designed specifically for enterprise applications.
Israel/Financial. Capitolis raised $110M for its tech solutions to address how money is moved around in the capital markets to speed up and simplify how banks transact with each other.
Israel/Secure IT Infrastructure. Bionic closed $65M for its application security posture management platform.
Germany/HR. Leapsome raised $60M for its HR platform that aims to improve employee performance and satisfaction through a series of feedback, OKRs, employee engagement, and corporate learning options.
Israel/ML Tooling. Datagen raised $50M for its synthetic data solution for computer vision teams.
France/SW Development. Weglot raised $50M for its API based website translation solution.
Germany/Employment. HeyJobs raised $47M for its cloud-based recruitment platform for passive candidates.
Israel/IT Infrastructure. Lightlytics raised $26M for its platform offering cloud deployment and infrastructure security solutions.
Israel/Design. D-ID raised $25M for its platform that animates still photographs and facilitates high-quality video productions using deep learning and AI-driven re-enactment technology.
UK/Financial. Causal raised $20M for its cloud-based financial planning and predictive analytics solution for businesses.
Switzerland/Data Tooling. Decentriq raised $15M for its solution of data clean rooms powered by confidential computing to unlock new value from sensitive data assets.
Norway/SW Development. Unleash raised $14M for its open-source feature management tool.
EU takes aim at Big Tech. The European Commission proposed a new law, called the Digital Markets Act, which is aimed at stopping the largest tech platforms from “boxing in users” and “squashing emerging rivals.” Essentially, they hope to foster more competition. Among other things, the law could require Meta, Google and Apple to make their rival messaging platforms interoperable. How exactly this could work, while still maintaining end-to-end encryption, which is perhaps one of the greatest consumer privacy advances of the past decade, is unclear.
Advances in brain-machine interfaces. Ujwal Chaudary, a biomedical engineer out of Geneva, has invented a brain implant that enables a fully paralyzed patient to communicate extensively with the outside world with his thoughts alone. The study, published in Nature Communications last week, is unique in that it’s the first example of a patient in a “fully-locked in state” communicating at length with the outside world (previously, communication was managed by alternative methods, like pointing to items and watching for micro-movements in the eyes or hands etc.). While there is some controversy around the study (read more here), the applications of the technology are undoubtedly groundbreaking.
PE turns to SaaS. Will private equity shops swoop in to acquire public SaaS companies that are trading well below their 52-week highs? With Thoma-Bravo’s acquisition of Anaplan this past week, one wonders if we’re seeing the beginning of a trend.
HOW TO STARTUP
Instacart’s valuation gambit. This past week, Instacart slashed its valuation by almost 40% from $39B to $24B. It’s unusual for private companies to mark down their own valuations without an external financing round forcing the matter, but one benefit of this move is a lower 409a valuation (i.e. a lower “strike price” for options issued to new and existing employees). That’s what motivated this repricing. It’s difficult to entice employees to stick around (or join up) when the company’s shares have limited to no upside. Wonder if this will be the first of many recruiting-motivated repricings across late stage technology companies?
Mission-critical advice for mission-driven founders. Homebrew’s Hunter Walk has some good advice for all the “mission-driven” founders out there. Basically…remember that not everyone will care as much as you do, because while solving this problem may be your mission in life, it’s just a job for your team. One particular useful piece of advice: “[D]on’t assume everyone understands as much as you do. Lead people through the logic behind your statements, not just your conclusions. [Remember] that over-communication will be required ongoing, more than you’d expect, because your team will be a set of people with different types of exposure or interest in the core fundamental problem you’re solving.”
HOW TO VENTURE
Sequoia takes on YC. This week Sequoia announced Arc, a London-SF-based early stage accelerator of sorts. Startups will get $1M from Sequoia, access to mentors and Sequoia’s network of experienced operators. In a bid to compete with accelerators like YC and Techstars, Sequoia is positioning Arc as a program that aims to help “outlier founders” with “company design.” Read more here.
Coatue lands in London. Sarah Cannon, who was previously a partner at Index Ventures, has been tapped by Coatue to establish their London office. While Coatue has been active in Europe over the past year (some examples include Gorillas, remote hiring company Deel, digital bank N26 and health insurance startup Alan), this is their first physical foothold in the region.
Firebolt has released the big data game! A Super Mario look-alike data engineer is on a mission. A mission to get the DATA! Play the (addictive) game here.
Candu is changing the way SaaS companies build in-product experiences.
CruxOCM’s CEO, Vicki Knott, was featured on the latest Proved Them Wrong podcast, where she described the struggles of entrepreneurship, raising capital and navigating the real world shark tank. Listen to the episode here.
Levity shared how to use no-code AI for Twitter sentiment analysis.
Planable’s CEO, Xenia Muntean, shared her experiences with how she strategically addresses business mistakes. “We organize a postmortem with everyone involved when a project ends. The person in charge holds a presentation summarizing the project and presenting the results. We use a model called “the three L’s” — liked, learned, lacked — to analyze the outcome. Participants write what they liked, learned or lacked on sticky notes. By the end, we have a list of lessons drawn up and we’re all aligned.”