Venture Capital

Aspire raises $32.5M to help SMEs secure fast finance in Southeast Asia

Posted by | alibaba, Apps, Asia, Aspire, Finance, funding, Indonesia, Lazada, MassMutual Ventures, Mobile, Online lending, payments, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Startups, Thailand, Venture Capital, vietnam, Y Combinator | No Comments

Aspire, a Singapore-based startup that helps SMEs secure working capital, has raised $32.5 million in a new financing round to expand its presence in several Southeast Asian markets.

The Series A round for the one-and-a-half-year-old startup was funded by MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia. Arc Labs and existing investors Y Combinator — Aspire graduated from YC last year — Hummingbird and Picus Capital also participated in the round. Aspire has raised about $41.5 million to date.

Aspire operates a neo-banking-like platform to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) quickly and easily secure working capital of up to about $70,000. AspireAccount, the startup’s flagship product, provides merchants and startups with instant credit limit for daily business expenses, as well as a business-to-business acceptance and other tools to help them manage their cash flow.

Co-founder and CEO Andrea Baronchelli tells TechCrunch that about 1,000 business accounts are opened each month on Aspire and that the company plans to continue focusing on Southeast Asia, where he says there are about 78 million small businesses, leaving plenty of room to scale (applications can be made through Aspire’s mobile app and are reviewed using a proprietary risk assessment engine before getting final approval from a human). Aspire claims it has seen 30% month-over-month growth since it was founded in January 2018 and expects to open more than 100,000 business accounts by next year.

Baronchelli, who served as a CMO for Alibaba’s Lazada platform for four years, says Aspire launched to close the gap left by the traditional banking industry’s focus on consumer services or businesses that make more than $10 million in revenue a year. As a result, smaller businesses in Southeast Asia, including online vendors and startups, often lack access to credit lines, accounts and other financial services tailored to their needs.

Aspire currently operates in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. The startup said it will use the fresh capital to scale its footprints in those markets. Additionally, Aspire is building a scalable marketplace banking infrastructure that will use third-party financial service providers to “create a unique digital banking experience for its SME customers.”

Baronchelli adds that “the bank of the future will probably be a marketplace,” so Aspire’s goal is to provide a place where SMEs can not only open accounts and credit cards, but also pick from different services like point of sale systems. It is currently in talks with potential partners. The startup is also working on a business credit card that will be linked to each business account by as early as this year.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is slated to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google. But for many emerging startups and businesses, getting financial services from a bank and securing working capital have become major pain points.

A growing number of startups are beginning to address these SMEs’ needs. In India, for instance, NiYo Bank and Open have amassed millions of businesses through their neo-banking platforms. Both of these startups have raised tens of millions of dollars in recent months. Drip Capital, which helps businesses in developing markets secure working capital, raised $25 million last week.

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3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Posted by | david baszucki, EC-1, Facebook, Gaming, Media, mobile gaming, Nintendo, online games, Roblox, Software, Startups, Venture Capital, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 50 million experiences from 2 million creators to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Developers receive a quarter of the revenue made from their games, with another quarter covering payment processing and another quarter covering cloud hosting. Its top 10 developers made about $3 million on average each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Update: TechCrunch corrected “2 million experiences” to be 50 million experiences from 2 million creators. We also provided more context of the revenue breakdown of payments made on Roblox to developers.

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The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

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VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

GettyImages 1161447217

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

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Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Posted by | Apps, EC-1, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Media, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Could Roblox create a new entertainment and communication category, something it calls “human co-experience”?

When it was a small startup, few observers would have believed in that future. But after 15 years — as told in the origin story of our Roblox EC-1 — the company has accumulated 90 million users and a new $150 million venture funding war chest. It has captured the imagination of America’s youth, and become a startup darling in the entertainment space.

But what, exactly, is human co-experience? Well, it can’t be described precisely — because it’s still an emerging category. “It’s almost like that fable where the nine blind men are touching and describing an elephant.

Everyone has a slightly different view,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. In Roblox’s view, co-experience means immersive environments where users play, explore, talk, hang out, and create an identity that’s as thoroughly fleshed out (if not as fleshy) as their offline, real life.

But the next decade at Roblox will also be its most challenging time yet, as it seeks to expand from 90 million users to, potentially, a billion or more. To do so, it needs to pull off two coups.

First, it needs to expand the age range of its players beyond its current tween and teen audience. Second, it must win the international market. Accomplishing both of these will be a puzzle with many moving parts.

What Roblox is today

Lineup All 1

One thing Roblox has done very well is appeal to kids within a certain age range. The company says that a majority of all 9-to-12-year-old children in the United States are on its platform.

Within that youthful segment, Roblox has arguably already created the human co-experience category. Many games are more cooperative than competitive, or have goals that are unclear or don’t seem to matter much. One of Roblox’s most popular games, for instance, is MeepCity, where players can run around and chat in virtual environments like a high school without necessarily interacting with the game mechanics at all.

What else separates these environments from what you can see today on, say, the App Store or Steam? A few characteristics seem common.

For one, the environments look rough. One Robloxian put the company’s relaxed attitude toward looks as “not over-indexing on visual fidelity.”

Roblox games also ignore the design principles now espoused by nearly every game company. Tutorials are infrequent, user interfaces are unpolished, and one gets the sense that KPIs like retention and engagement are not being carefully measured.

That’s similar to how games on platforms like Facebook and the App Store started out, so it seems reasonable to say Roblox is just in a similarly early stage. It is — but it’s also competing directly with mobile games that are more rigorously designed. Over half of its players are on smartphones, where they could have chosen a free game that looks more polished, like Fortnite or Clash of Clans.

The more accurate explanation of why Roblox draws big player numbers is that there’s a gap in the kids entertainment market. So far, only Roblox fills that gap, despite its various shortcomings.

“The amount of unstructured, undirected play has been declining for decades. [Kids] have much more homework, and structured activities like theater after school.

One of the big unmet needs we solve is to give kids a place to have imagination,” explains Craig Donato, Roblox’s chief business officer. “If you play the experiences on our platform, you’re not playing to win. You go into these worlds with people you know and share an experience.”

Games like The Sims tried to do the same, but eventually faded in the children’s demo. Roblox’s trick has been continued growth: it provides kids with an endless array of games that unlock their imagination. But just like we don’t expect adults to have fun with Barbie dolls, it’s unlikely most adults would enjoy Roblox games.

Of course, it would be easy to point at Roblox and laugh off its ambitions to win over people of all ages. That laughter would also be short-sighted.

As David Sze, the Greylock Partners investor who led Roblox’s most recent round, pointed out: “When we invested in Facebook there was a huge amount of pushback that nobody would use it outside college.” Companies that have won over one demographic have a good chance of winning others.

Roblox has also proven its ability to evolve. At one time, the platform’s players were 90 percent male. Now, that’s down to about 60 percent. Roblox now has far more girls playing than the typical game platform.

Evolving to new demographics

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Samsung backs Indus OS, three other startups in first investments for its VC arm in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Facebook, funding, india, indus os, kaios, M12, reliance jio, Samsung Ventures, Venture Capital | No Comments

Samsung Venture, the investment arm of the South Korean technology giant, has invested $8.5 million in Indus OS and three other Indian startups as the company’s VC fund begins its journey in the country.

Indus OS is a popular Android fork that has built a suite of localized applications focused on serving the masses in India. Samsung and Venturest funded the four-year-old startup’s $5.75 million Series B round.

Several smartphone vendors, including homegrown firms such as Micromax, Gioness, Intex and Karbonn, are customers of Indus OS, integrating many of its features into their handsets. Earlier this year, Samsung partnered with Indus OS to revamp its Galaxy App Store.

Rakesh Deshmukh, co-founder and CEO of Indus OS, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup will use the fresh capital to develop more local solutions and build a software development kit for developers that will enable them to make tweaks to their existing apps and add India-specific features.

Deshmukh said Indus OS, which makes money from monetizing ads, would soon partner with more smartphone vendors to expand its reach in the country. This is crucial to the startup as Indian smartphone vendors, which once controlled the local smartphone market, have lost the smartphone war to Chinese vendors that now control two-thirds of the space, and Samsung.

The other challenge is of course the rise of KaiOS, which has gained popularity in recent years after striking a deal with Indian telecom operator Reliance Jio. Tens of millions of JioPhone feature handsets today run KaiOS, giving many people fewer reasons to upgrade to a smartphone.

Deshmukh said he does not see KaiOS as a competitor. “It serves as a bridge. It is convincing many people to get online and try a multimedia phone for the first time. They will eventually upgrade to a better experience,” he said.

Indian newspaper Economic Times reported earlier today that Samsung now owns about 20% stakes of Indus OS. Representatives of the startup, which raised $10 million in three tranches of Series A three years ago, refuted the claim. Deshmukh said the company plans to raise more money in the coming future.

Other than Indus OS, Samsung Venture has invested in Gnani.ai, a startup that focuses on speech technology, and IoT solutions provider Silvan Innovation Labs. The venture arm said it also has invested in an early-stage startup that focuses on computer vision, but declined to name it.

Samsung Venture, which has more than $2.2 billion in assets under management, said it continues to track and actively invest in future-oriented businesses that are built on new technologies. Notably, Xiaomi, which surpassed Samsung to become India’s top smartphone vendor two years ago, also has invested in about half a dozen startups in India.

India’s tech startups have raised more than $20 billion in the last two years. The country’s burgeoning ecosystem is increasingly attracting major VC firms in the nation. SoftBank and Tiger Global, two large global VC funds, count India as one of their biggest markets.

In recent years, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook have also begun to infuse money in India’s startup space. Google has invested in delivery startup Dunzo, while Amazon has taken stake in more than half a dozen local companies, including Shuttl. Facebook invested in social commerce app Meesho last month.

Earlier this year, Microsoft expanded its M12 corporate venture fund (formerly known as Microsoft Ventures) to India with an investment in Innovaccer, a six-year-old SaaS startup.

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‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest President, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on Smartphone Addiction

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, mental health, Mobile, Moment, MySpace, Pinterest, podcast, podcast transcript, screen time, smartphone addiction, Social, Startups, sunil rajaraman, TC, This is Your Life in Silicon Valley, tim kendall, Venture Capital | No Comments

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

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Northzone’s Paul Murphy goes deep on the next era of gaming

Posted by | Amazon, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Electronic Arts, esports, Gaming, Google, King, league of legends, Media, mobile gaming, Netflix, Nintendo Switch, Paul Murphy, Rovio, Sports, stadia, Startups, Steam, supercell, Talent, TC, Tencent, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, Virtual reality | No Comments

As the gaming market continues to boom, billions of dollars are being invested in new games and new streaming platforms vying to own a piece of the action. Most of the value is accruing to the large incumbents in a space, however, and the entrance of Google and other big tech companies makes it difficult to identify where there are compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new empires.

TechCrunch media analyst Eric Peckham recently sat down with Paul Murphy, Partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss Paul’s view of the market and where he is focusing his dollars. Below is the transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity):


Eric Peckham: You co-founded the hit mobile game Dots before moving to London and joining Northzone last year. Are you still bullish on investment opportunities in mobile gaming or do you think the market has changed?

Paul Murphy: I’m bullish on mobile gaming–the market is bigger than it has ever been. There’s a whole generation of people that have been trained to play games on mobile phones. So those are things that are very positive.

The challenge is you don’t really have a rising tide moment anymore. The winners have won. And so it’s very, very difficult for someone to enter with new content and build a business that’s as big as Supercell or King, regardless of how good their content is. So while the prize for winning in mobile gaming content big, the likelihood is smaller.

Where I’m spending most of my time is not on content, it’s on components within mobile gaming. We’re looking at infrastructure: different platforms that enable mobile gaming, like Bunch which we invested in.

Their product allows you to do live video and audio on top of mobile games. So we don’t have to take any content risk. We’re betting that this great product will fit into a large inventory ecosystem.

Peckham: New mobile game studios that are launching all seem to fall under the sphere of influence of these bigger companies. They get a strategic investment from Supercell or another company. To your point, it’s tough for a small startup to compete entirely on its own.

Murphy: It’s possible in mobile gaming still but it’s really, really hard now. At the same time, what you’ve seen is the odds of winning are lower. It is hard to reach the same scale when it costs you $5.00 to acquire a user today, whereas when Candy Crush launched, it was $0.05 per user. So it’s almost impossible to achieve King-like scale today.

Therefore, you’re looking at similar content risk with reduced upside, which makes that equation less attractive for venture capital. But it might be perfectly fine for an established company because they don’t need to do the marketing, they have the audience already.

The big gaming companies all struggle with the challenge of how to create the next hit IP. They have this machine that can bring any great game to market efficiently, with a large audience they can cross promote from and capital they can invest to build a big brand quickly. For them, the biggest challenge is getting the best content.

So it’s natural to me that the pendulum has swung towards strategic investors in mobile gaming content. Epic has a fund that they set up with Improbable, Supercell is making direct investments, Tencent has been making investments for years. Even from a content perspective, you’re probably going to see Apple, Google, and Amazon making more content investments in mobile gaming.

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Peckham: Does this same market dynamic apply to PC games and console games? Do you see a certain area within gaming where there’s still opportunity for independent startups to create the game itself and find success at a venture scale?

Murphy: The reason we made our investment in Klang Games, which is building an MMO called Seed that people will primarily play through PC, is that while there is content risk–you’re never going to get rid of the possibility that the IP doesn’t fly–if it works, it will be massive…an Earth-shattering level of success. If their vision comes to life, it will be very, very big.

So that one has all the risks that you’d have in any other game studio but the upside is exponentially larger, so the bet makes sense to us. And it so happens that it’s going to be on PC first, where there’s certainly a lot of competition but it’s not as saturated and the monetization methods are healthier than in mobile gaming. In PC, you don’t have to do free-to-play tactics that interfere with the gameplay.

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Arm shows SoftBank does tech PE the right way

Posted by | ARM Holdings, Finance, Masayoshi Son, Mobile, Private Equity, Simon Segars, smartphones, SoftBank Group, Venture Capital | No Comments

Private equity firms get a bad rap — and not without reason. In the prototypical example, a bunch of men in suits (and these folks always seem to be men for some reason) swoop in from Manhattan with Excel spreadsheets and pink slips, slashing and burning through an organization while ladening the balance sheet with debt in an algebraic alchemy of monetary extraction.

Vultures, parasites, octopuses — these are folks who almost certainly won popularity contests in high school and now seem to be shooting for most unpopular person to be compared to a crustacean in the Finance section of the WSJ (and there is some damn strong competition in those pages).

Sometimes that restructuring can save an org, and yes, many companies need a Marie Kondo armed with a business plan. But it’s a model that works best for, say, retail chains, and traditionally has been wholly incompatible with the tech industry.

Tech is a tough place for private equity buyouts, as the biggest expense for most companies is talent (i.e. R&D), and cutting R&D is usually the quickest path to cutting the valuation of the asset you just acquired. Unlike retail or manufacturing, there are just fewer cost levers to manipulate to make the numbers look better, and so PE firms have generally shied away from big tech acquisitions.

So it was interesting talking to Simon Segars this week in New York. Segars is the CEO and longtime executive at Arm, the U.K.-headquartered chip designer that powers billions of devices worldwide. Over the past two decades, Arm has had an incredible run: Last year, its designs were imprinted on 22.9 billion chips, thanks largely to the now ubiquitous adoption of smartphones across the world.

That success has been under stress though. As Brian Heater analyzed in his State of the Smartphone, smartphone growth has slowed in most markets as consumers extend their upgrade cycles and the pace of innovation has slowed. Add in the ongoing trade kerfuffle between the U.S. and China, and suddenly being the worldwide leading designer of smartphone chips isn’t as enviable as it was even just a few years ago.

As a public company facing this landscape, Arm would have faced incredible pressure from investors to meet short-term revenue targets while cutting back on R&D — the very source of future growth the company has relied on its entire history. But Arm isn’t a public company — instead, SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son bought out the company entirely in 2016 for $32 billion.

Rather than being pegged to its stock price or a quick return to a PE shop, Arm is now seemingly evaluated on growth in its intellectual property and strategy for capturing new markets. “I’m in a very fortunate position where, despite the slowing of the smartphone market … I’ve got an owner that says, invest, you know, invest like crazy to make sure you capture these waves of growth in the future, which is what we’re doing,” Segars explained to TechCrunch.

The company could have just doubled down on its existing product lines, but SoftBank’s ownership has opened the floodgates to explore other areas that could use Arm expertise. The company is now focused (if one can focus on many things) on everything from 5G and networking to IoT and autonomous driving. “We look to be in the right place at the right time with the right technology to catch the upswing into the future,“ Segars said.

That strategy requires some serious audacity though. Arm’s EBITDA was $225 million last year (21% lower than the year before) on $1.8 billion in net sales, which year-over-year grew a paltry 0.2% according to SoftBank’s latest financials. Meanwhile, operating expenses are up from the addition of hundreds of new employees and a new headquarters campus in Cambridge, outside London. R&D isn’t cheap, nor does it payoff quickly.

Yet, that is exactly how Son and SoftBank approach this take-private transaction. “During the acquisition process, Masa said to me, ‘You run the business, I only care about long-term strategy, not going to interfere, you know, you know what you’re doing.’ … [and] Masa has been absolutely true to his word on that,” Segars said. “From a day-to-day basis, SoftBank leaves us completely alone.”

And unlike the bean counters that plague most PE shops, Son isn’t interested in detailed operational data from the firm. “When I give tactical updates… he’s asleep, [but] try stopping him when he’s talking about long-term strategy,” Segars said.

And unlike the PE model of dumping a bunch of high-interest corporate debt on the balance sheet to eke out returns, SoftBank has — at least, so far — avoided that particular tactic. While there were ruminations that SoftBank was considering cashing out some dollars from Arm using loans early last year, such rumors have apparently not panned out. Segars confirmed that “we have none” when we asked about leverage, which has otherwise plagued much of the rest of SoftBank Group and its various entities.

While Arm clearly has a bullish owner who somehow uses financial wizardry to give the company the resources it needs to grow, Son doesn’t have an infinite timeline for the company. Much like classic PE firms with five to seven-year time horizons to harvest returns, Son has already spoken out loud about pushing Arm back into the public markets in roughly five years’ time.

“I’m pretty sure, the night before we go public again, I’m going to be thinking ‘Man, I wish we’d had more time, you know, five years sounds like a lot,” Segars said. But “the way I talk about it within Arm is we’re in an investment phase now … and the goal is that by the time we re-list … the revenues from these new markets are taking off and that’s flowing to the bottom line and we get back to a world of growing top line and expanding margins.”

In other words, Arm is a classic PE deal, but with the focus on actually getting the fundamentals in the business right without that financial alchemy and employee firing sadness. Maybe the plan will work, or maybe it won’t, but it is the right approach to handling the growth of a tech company.

How many other tech companies could use such an approach? How many other companies are currently languishing if only they had more focused owners with a true growth mindset to invest in the future? Silicon Valley has created trillions of dollars in market value over the past two decades, but there is even more waiting to be unlocked. And the best part is, it doesn’t even require an Excel macro to make it happen.

Update: Changed ARM Holdings to Arm

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Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Posted by | accelerator, Alexis Ohanian, Amazon, Apps, Brian Wong, Canada, coach, delane parnell, detroit, esports, Facebook, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, Ludlow Ventures, Matt Mazzeo, Media, national basketball association, north america, Personnel, Peter Pham, playvs, Riot Games, rocket fiber, Rocket League, science, serial entrepreneur, Sports, Spotify, Startups, Talent, TC, Twitch, United States, Venture Capital, video game | No Comments

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.

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At this point, SoftBank Group is really just its Vision Fund

Posted by | ARM Holdings, Asia, Media, Mobile, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, sprint, Tariffs, Venture Capital, yahoo japan | No Comments

Last week, SoftBank Group Corp. — Masayoshi Son’s holding company for his rapidly expanding collection of businesses — reported its fiscal year financials. There were some major headlines that came out of the news, including that the company’s Vision Fund appears to be doing quite well and that SoftBank intends to increase its stake in Yahoo Japan.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I wanted to dive into all 80 pages of the full financial results to see what else we can learn about the conglomerate’s strategy and future.

The Vision Fund is just dominating the financials

We talk incessantly about the Vision Fund here at TechCrunch, mostly because the fund seems to be investing in every startup that generates revenue and walks up and down Sand Hill looking for capital. During the last fiscal year ending March 31st, the fund added 36 new investments and reached 69 active holdings. The total invested capital was a staggering $60.1 billion.

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