SoftBank leads $15M round for China’s industrial robot maker Youibot

SoftBank has picked its bet in China’s flourishing industrial robotics space. Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, said it has notched close to 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth.

In December, SoftBank Ventures Asia led the financing round for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.

Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. The startup, based in Shenzhen where it went through SOSV’s HAX hardware accelerator program, secured three financing rounds during 2020 as businesses and investors embrace industrial automation to minimize human contact. Youibot has raised over 200 million yuan to date.

Founded by a group of PhDs from China’s prestigious Xi’an Jiaotong University, Youibot develops solutions for factory automation, logistics management, as well as inspection and maintenance for various industries. For example, its robots can navigate around a yard of buses, inspect every tire of the vehicles and provide a detailed report for maintenance, a feature that helped it rack up Michelin’s contract.

Youibot’s “strongest suits” are in electronics manufacturing and electric power patrol, the company’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The startup is also seeing high growth in its semiconductor business, with customers coming from several prominent front-end wafer fabs, which use the firm’s robots for chip packaging, testing, and wafer production. Youibot declined to disclose their names due to confidentiality.

Chinese clients that it named include CRRC Zhuzhou, a state-owned locomotive manufacturer, Huaneng Group, a state-owned electricity generation giant, Huawei, and more. China currently comprises 80% of Youibot’s total revenues while overseas markets are rapidly catching up. The firm’s revenues tripled last year from 2020.

Youibot plans to spend the fresh proceeds on research and development in its mobile robots and propietary software, team building and market expansion.

Why did Bill.com pay $2.5B for Divvy?

As expected, Bill.com is buying Divvy, the Utah-based corporate spend management startup that competes with Brex, Ramp and Airbase. The total purchase price of around $2.5 billion is substantially above the company’s roughly $1.6 billion post-money valuation that Divvy set during its $165 million, January 2021 funding round.

Divvy’s growth rate tells us that the company did not sell due to performance weakness.

Per Bill.com, the transaction includes $625 million in cash, with the rest of the consideration coming in the form of stock in Divvy’s new parent company.

Bill.com also reported its quarterly results today: Its Q1 included revenues of $59.7 million, above expectations of $54.63 million. The company’s adjusted loss per share of $0.02 also exceeded expectations, with the street expecting a sharper $0.07 per share deficit.

The better-than-anticipated results and the acquisition news combined to boost the value of Bill.com by more than 13% in after-hours trading.

Luckily for us, Bill.com released a deck that provides a number of financial metrics relating to its purchase of Divvy. This will not only allow us to better understand the value of the unicorn at exit, but also its competitors, against which we now have a set of metrics to bring to bear. So, this afternoon, let’s unpack the deal to gain a better understanding of the huge exit and the value of Divvy’s richly funded competitors.

Divvy by the numbers

The following numbers come from the Bill.com deck on the deal, which you can read here. Here are the core figures we care about:

  • “~$100 million annualized revenue,” calculated using the company’s March results multiplied by 12. That puts Divvy’s March, 2021 revenues at around $8.3 million.
  • “>100% revenue growth YoY,” again calculated by leaning on the company’s March results. So, we can’t be sure that its full Q1 2021 growth was over the 100% mark. Still having its most recent Q1 month generate a three-figure growth rate is good. It also lets us know that the company did no more than $4 million or so in March 2020 revenue.
  • “~$4 billion annualized TPV,” or total payment volume. Again, this is a March number annualized.

This lets us price the company somewhat. Divvy sold for around 25x its current revenue rate. That’s a software-level multiple, implying that the company has either incredibly strong gross margins, or Bill.com had to pay a multiples-premium to buy the company’s future growth today. I suspect the latter more than the former, but we’ll have to scout for more data when Divvy shows up in Bill.com results after the deal closes; that data is a few quarters away.

Emergence Capital co-founder Jason Green on transitioning out of the firm, and what’s next

Succession is a major issue for many venture firms. Institutional investors, founders — even reporters — often get attached to senior members of a team, and when one of those individuals decides to hang up his or her cleats, it can be tricky for the rest of the partnership.

For its part, Emergence, a highly successful enterprise-focused venture firm, has been thinking about succession for at least the last decade, suggests Jason Green, who co-founded the outfit with Gordon Ritter and Brian Jacobs in the winter of 2002 and who says the team has long focused on hiring younger investors who can someday steward the firm.

That planning seems to be paying off. Emergence just yesterday revealed it has raised $950 million across two new funds, and the firm’s backers committed that capital despite that Green — who has enjoyed a high profile — let them know he’s ready to move on to new endeavors. We talked with Green about that decision, and how other firms might do a better job of handing over the reins. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: A lot of your peers are starting to segue out of their longtime venture roles, but a lot are sticking around. What was the impetus for you?

JG: Well, I’m not leaving; I would say I’m transitioning to a different role. I’m still on eight boards and going to be actively involved in mentoring. But it’s the kind of thing we planned when we started the firm. We wanted to build an enduring franchise and grow from within and ultimately have the founders kind of step aside and let the next generation take over.

Gordon is obviously still fully engaged, but it felt like the right time [for me to do this]. The firm is in such a great position, and for me personally, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve achieved a lot — probably more than I expected, frankly — and I’m interested in having an impact in some other ways going forward. [Editor’s note: The firm’s third cofounder, Jacobs, left several years ago to launch a seed-stage fund called Moai Capital.]

TC: What’s the plan going forward?

JG: I started a family foundation that’s going to be doing philanthropic work in a few areas of interest — climate change, ending mass incarceration, working on homelessness, working on educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

I’m also excited to become an LP in emerging funds run by diverse managers. I’ve [invested in] half a dozen teams with African American leads or female leads or Latino leads, but while our industry has made some progress over the last, whatever, 10 to 15 years, it’s not nearly enough. [Helping them] is somewhere where I think I can move the needle. I’ve been at three venture firms and started one from scratch, so for me, in some ways I feel even more confident [in] coaching and mentoring other emerging managers than I do entrepreneurs.

TC: Are you modeling your transition after anyone you know and admire?

JG: A guy who has been a mentor of mine for many years is Russ Carson, who started [the private equity firm] Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. He has kind of become a role model of what I’d like to do for the next phase of my career. He’s on the boards of The Rockefeller University and has funded charter schools and been really impactful in the community.

I definitely have interest in supporting the local community in the Bay Area, but I also think some of these [areas I’ll be focusing on] are almost global in scope, and part of [leaving Emergence] is having the freedom to just be curious and learn about things as I go, then figure out where where I can make a difference and have some fun along the way.

TC: Did you and Gordon arm wrestle over who’d get to bounce first? 

JG: [Laughs.] Yeah, we’re around the same age. I think the difference is that I’ve been in the venture business 30 years and he’s been in the business 15 years; he really started in the venture business with Emergence and I think he’s totally jazzed to stay totally in the game for the foreseeable future [whereas] I’m ready to shift from hunting to farming.

TC: Any advice for other firms that are contemplating how to handle succession?

JG: We hired somebody every couple of years and we made the decision not to hire multiple people at the same level. We basically said, ‘Everybody that we hire in this firm can be successful long term here, and your job is to make other people around you successful. That’s the best way of ensuring your own success.’ And so there was this shared sense of success and failure that I think that we institutionalize in the firm.

At a lot of firms, it’s a little bit more of an eat-what-you-kill kind of mentality. I think in the venture business that’s a little bit misplaced, because there’s so much luck involved in the business. You never know which partner is going to have that big home run. It can take 10 years to actually figure out what were the big wins [in a fund], so you’re going to judge somebody based on the deals they’ve done in the first two years or three years of the business? We tend to focus a lot more on the inputs than the outputs because the outputs are very variable and have a lot of uncertainty associated with them, but the inputs you can control.

TC: What fun thing are going to pick up now that you’ll maybe have more time? 

JG: I’m trying to squeeze as much time as I can with my kids, who are juniors and senior in high school right now. They’ll be off to college soon and spending time with them is a priority, for sure. Health and wellness is also important and something that tends to take a backseat given how busy we all are, so that’s going to become more of a priority. But also just building and spending time with great friends and hopefully having more opportunities to create some great memories. I’ve no doubt my plate will be full.

Joco allowed to continue ebike operations as NYC lawsuit plays out

The City of New York’s lawsuit against JOCO, the docked electric bike-share service, hit a snag with the court Thursday, when it was denied temporary restraining order to end the company’s operations.

The city alleges in the lawsuit field Wednesday that JOCO is operating illegally because all bike-sharing systems within the city require prior written authorization from the Department of Transportation. JOCO has argued that it’s not violating any laws since its docking stations are all on private property and thus outside the jurisdiction of the city’s regulation. In late April, the city issued a cease-and-desist notice to JOCO, which the company ignored. 

The court denied Thursday the city’s request to temporarily halt JOCO’s operations in advance of a hearing scheduled for June 16. 

“We are pleased with the result in court today, and in the months ahead we will be expanding our operations to help New Yorkers with more mobility options as they return to work and begin to again enjoy the city as it re-opens and recovers from the pandemic,” said the co-founders of JOCO, Johnny Cohen and Jonny A. Cohen, in a statement.

JOCO launched 300 e-bikes at 30 stations around Manhattan in April, and said it plans to nearly triple that number by June. The company has partnerships with parking garages in the city, including the iconic Icon Parking, the city’s largest operator of private garages.

The lawsuit filed this week, which includes a request to impose a civil penalty against JOCO of $5,000 for every day a violation occurs, specifies that Citi Bike, a subsidiary of Lyft, is the only company presently authorized by the DOT to operate a bike share in any of New York’s five boroughs. The Citi Bike system, which launched in 2012 and has recorded more than 111 million trips, originated in a request for bike-share proposals from the department that would benefit the public, including mandated safety, service levels and maintenance standards, as well as privacy and consumer protections. 

“We’re committed to the highest safety standards,” the two Cohens told TechCrunch. “We have fleet management, we give free helmets to all our members. We are a responsible startup making sure we have all our bases covered in this regard, and to add onto that, we’re using a very reputable bike.”

A JOCO spokesperson declined further comment regarding the city’s justification for regulation and exclusivity with Citi Bike.

We all live on top of each other in NYC,” tweeted New York State Senator Liz Krueger in response to the lawsuit. “Our street space requires thoughtful regulation to be functional and safe. Any transportation service that moves people in large numbers on the public right-of-way needs oversight, public accountability and to obey the laws that exist.”

The exclusive operations rights afforded Citi Bike are also an incentive for the investment of private capital needed to expand the system, according to language in the lawsuit. The city’s contract with Lyft, which was most recently amended in 2020, includes an investment of $300 million to expand the system.

A Lyft spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Update: The article was updated to reflect the injunction was denied Thursday. 

WhatsApp is doing fine despite months-long backlash over policy update

It’s safe to say WhatsApp didn’t have the ideal start to 2021. Less than a week into the new year, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app had already annoyed hundreds of thousands of users with its scary worded notification about a planned policy update. The backlash grew fast and millions of people, including several high-profile figures, started to explore rival apps Signal and Telegram.

Even governments, including India’s — WhatsApp’s biggest market by users — expressed concerns. (In the case of India, also an antitrust probe.) The backlash prompted WhatsApp to offer a series of clarifications and assurances to users, and it also postponed the deadline for enforcing the planned update by three months. Now with the May 15 deadline just a week away, we are able to quantify the real-world impact the aforementioned backlash had on WhatsApp’s user base: Nada.

The vast majority of users that WhatsApp has notified about the planned update in recent months have accepted the update, a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch. And the app continues to grow, added the spokesperson without sharing the exact figures. The company also didn’t share how many users it has notified about the planned update.

Facebook’s recent earnings call gives us some idea: The company’s family of apps had 3.45 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31 and 3.21 billion on September 30.

Users who don’t agree to the new terms, as TechCrunch has previously reported, won’t lose access to their accounts or any feature on May 15, WhatsApp said. But after an unspecified number of weeks, such users will lose several core functionalities — though not at the same time.

“We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come,” the spokesperson added.

Since 2016, WhatsApp’s privacy policies have granted the service permission to share with Facebook certain metadata such as user phone numbers and device information.

The new terms allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payment and transaction data in order to help them better target ads as the social juggernaut broadens its e-commerce offerings and looks to merge its messaging platforms.

How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass

In April, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead with its initial public offering and is now valued at several billions of dollars.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a whole other topic: his path to entrepreneurship as a child raised by a disowned single mother whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so passionate about inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their dreams that he wrote a book about it.

In our discussion, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets to his success (hint: one of them involves lots of listening) and his advice for his young entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TC: As the mother of a teen who is already trying to start his own business, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What finally got you motivated to care about school and how did you manage to graduate in such a short amount of time?

Reffkin: Well, I think your son might just be on the right track! Please give him a word of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to another.

My mom says that a lot of other parents thought she was crazy for letting me launch my DJ business. But starting a successful DJ business in high school helped me learn about myself and my passion for entrepreneurship — and it ultimately helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of both my personal statement and the relationships I built with several members of the admissions team.

I believe the first step is always to dream big. For me, my big dreams for my college future started on a trip to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, but I knew it was going to be hard for me to get in. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that moment, my desire to go to Columbia went from strong to absolute, because suddenly it felt like it was about something larger than myself — not just where I went to school, but about a broader struggle for opportunity for people like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to show that even though I had a C average, I had what it took to keep up at a top school. And thankfully, it paid off. 

In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.

TC: How do you think being raised by a single mother without privilege helped shape you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a person of color impacted your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was just me and my mom. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her parents because I was Black. My father abandoned us and died, homeless, when I was young. What shaped me most as an entrepreneur was learning from my mother. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most important principles: every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to bounce back with passion. I saw her face bad relationships, bankruptcy and the stream of daily rejections that comes from being an agent. And she always bounced back. So when the world told me I couldn’t do something or that I was destined to fail, I was ready for them. Thanks to my mom, I already knew how to bounce back.

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mother, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my entire life. In most classes in high school and college, I was the only Black person. In almost every meeting early in my career, I was the only Black person. When I was raising capital for Compass, I almost never saw someone Black on the other side of the table. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been lucky to get terrific advice along the way from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who is lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a really strong community of people who’ve all supported each other.

TC: You’ve had some impressive mentors over the years. How did those relationships develop? How have they been valuable besides the obvious? 

Reffkin: Growing up, I was hungry for advice. Coming from a single-parent home, I looked for guidance and wisdom on how to create a better life wherever I could find it. My mom connected me to several nonprofits when I was in high school that helped open my eyes to how much opportunity and support there was out there in the world. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life and let them know how it had helped me. That did two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of what I was working on.

The other thing my mentors gave me was the sense that even though the world was telling me I couldn’t be successful, I could be. Meeting someone like Vernon Jordan who advised presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound impact on me. He was a father figure to me. I met him when I was 23 years old, and at that time, it wasn’t clear to me that you could be successful in the business world as a Black man. I just hadn’t seen it before. When I started at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the only other Black investment banker there. He was not just a senior partner, he was a legend, widely known for serving on more Fortune 500 boards than anyone in history. He took a strong interest in me, and with his support and advice, he made me feel like I belonged and helped me see a path where I could be as successful as I wanted to be. 

I founded a nonprofit in my twenties called America Needs You that has provided mentorship, career development and college support to thousands of students. I wrote my new book, “No One Succeeds Alone,” as a way to pay it forward by making the lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from so many remarkable people available to everyone — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

TC: What advice would you give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the advice I’d give to someone from an underrepresented group who just graduated college and is in their first job:

1) Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even yourself. Whenever anyone tells you to slow down, speed up.

2) Spend the next 10 years learning as much as you can from the smartest people you can. Find mentors in your job and outside that will give you the honest feedback that others won’t. Feedback is a gift. It’ll be hard for you to hear, but it’s actually even harder for them to give it to you. So you may have to ask for it directly and let people know that you can take it.

3) Learn how to turn negativity into positive energy that fuels you. There will always be skeptics, doubters and haters telling you that you can’t do something or that you don’t belong. 

TC: What’s next after Compass?

Reffkin: I believe that to be truly successful, you can’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you have to be all-in, and that’s what I am for Compass: 100% dedicated to our 23,000 agents and employees. One of my mentors told me about the “shower test” once — that if you’re not excited enough about your job to think about it in the shower, you’re probably not in the right job. And I’ll tell you: I’m so passionate about the company we’re building that I’m still thinking about Compass in the shower. At Compass, we’ve accomplished much in the past eight years, but we’re truly just getting started.