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Maybe SPACs were a bad idea after all – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Hello friends, I was out yesterday with what I’m calling Moderna Syndrome. Basically I got whacked by my second vaccine dose, and instead of enjoying a day off eating candy and spoiling my dogs I spent the entire day on the couch unable to move. All that’s to say that I missed Coinbase and DoorDash earnings when they came out.

Catching us up, Coinbase met its forecasts that it had previously released (more here), and today its stock is flat. DoorDash, in contrast, beat market expectations and is currently up just over 25% as I write to you.

But despite huge quarters from each, both companies are far below their recently set all-time highs. Coinbase is worth around $265 per share today, off from an all-time high of $429.54, which it set recently. And DoorDash is worth $145 this afternoon, far below its $256.09 52-week high.

They are not alone amongst recent public offerings that have lost steam. Many SPAC-led combinations are tanking. But while Coinbase and DoorDash are still richly valued at current levels and worth far more than they were as private companies, some startups that took SPAC money to float are not doing well, let alone as well.

As Bloomberg notes, five electric vehicle companies that SPAC’d their way to the public markets were worth $60 billion at one point. Now the collection of mostly revenue-free public EV companies have shed “more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.” Youch.

And SPAC hype-man and general investing bon vivant Chamath Palihapitiya is taking some stick for his deal’s returns as well. It’s all a bit messy. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what we’ve expected all along.

Not that there aren’t some SPAC-combinations that make sense. There are. But mostly it’s been more speculative hype than business substance. Perhaps that’s why Coinbase and DoorDash didn’t need to lean on crutches to get public. Sure, the market is still figuring out what they are actually worth, but that doesn’t mean that they are in any real trouble. But consider, for a moment, the companies that have agreed to go public via a SPAC before the correction and are still waiting for their deal to complete.

TFW ur forecast is conservative

The Exchange has been on the horn recently with a few public company CEOs after their earnings report. After those conversations, we have to talk a bit about guidance. Why? Because it’s a game that I find slightly annoying.

Some public companies simply don’t provide forecasts. Cool. Root doesn’t, for example, provide quarterly guidance. Fine. Other companies provide guidance, but only in a super-conservative format. This is in effect no guidance at all, in my view. Not that we’re being rude to companies per se, but they often wind up in a weird dance between telling the market something and telling it something useful.

Picking on Appian’s CEO as he’s someone I like, when discussing his own company’s forecasts Matt Calkins said that its guidance is “unfailingly conservative” — so much so that he said it was nearly frustrating. But he went on to argue that Appian is not short-run focused (good), and that if a company puts up big estimates it is more judged on the expectation of those results versus the realization of said results. That line of thinking immediately makes ultra-prudent guidance seem reasonable.

This is a philosophical argument more than anything, as Wall Street comes up with its own expectations. The financial rubber hits the road when companies guide under Wall Street’s own expectations or deliver results that don’t match those of external bettors. So guidance matters some, just not as much as people think.

BigCommerce’s CEO Brent Bellm helped provide some more guidance as to why public companies can guide a bit more conservatively than we might expect during our recent call. It helps them not overspend. He noted that if BigCommerce — which had a super solid quarter, by the by — is conservative in its planning (the font from which guidance flows, to some degree) it can’t deploy too much near-term capital.

In the case of BigCommerce, Bellm continued, he wants the company to overperform on revenue, but not adjusted profits. So, if revenue comes in ahead of expectations, it can spend more, but won’t work to maximize their near-term profitability. And he said that he’s told analysts just that. So keeping guidance low means that it won’t overspend and blast its adjusted profitability, while any upside allows for more aggressive spend?

Harumph, is my general take on all of the above. It’s very fine to have public company CEOs play the public game well, but what I’d greatly prefer is if they did something more akin to what startups do. High-growth tech companies often have a board-approved plan and an internal plan that is more aggressive. For public companies this would be akin to a base case and a stretch case. Let’s have both, please? I am tired of parsing sandbagged numbers for the truth.

Sure, by reporting a guidance range, public companies are doing some of that. But not nearly enough. I hate coyness for coyness’s sake!

That’s enough of a rant for today, more on BigCommerce earnings next week if we can fit it in. You can read more from The Exchange on Appian and the larger low-code movement here, if that’s your jam.

Never going back

We’re running a bit long today, so let me demount with some predictions.

Nearly every startup I’ve spoken to in the last year that had 20 or fewer staff at the time of the chat is a remote-first team. That’s due to their often being born during the pandemic, but also because many very early-stage startups are simply finding it easier to recruit globally because often the talent they need, can afford or can attract, is not in their immediate vicinity.

Startups are simply finding it critical to have relaxed work location rules to snag and, we presume, retain the talent that they need. And they are not alone. Big Tech is in similar straits. As The Information reported recently:

An internal Google employee message board lit up last Wednesday morning as news of what many staff perceived as a more relaxed policy for working remotely circulated. One meme shared on the board showed a person crying, labeled “Facebook recruiters.” Another showed a sad person labeled “San Francisco landlords.”

If you aren’t laughing, maybe you have a life. But I do this for a living, and I am dying at that quote.

Look, it’s clear that lots of people can do lots of work outside of an office, and even though labor purchasers (employers) want to run 1984-style operations on their employees (labor sellers) to ensure that they are Doing Precisely Enough, the actual denizens writing code are like, naw. And that’s just too much for Big Tech to handle as they are literally just cash flows held up by people who type for a living.

What this means is that tech is not going back to 100% in-office work or anything close to. At least not at companies that want to actually ensure that they have top-tier talent.

It’s a bit like when you see a company comprising only white men; you know that it doesn’t have nearly the best team that it could. Firms that enforce full-office policies are going to overindex on a particular demographic. And it won’t be to their benefit.

Alex

Catching us up, Coinbase met its forecasts that it had previously released (more here), and today its stock is flat. DoorDash, in contrast, beat market expectations and is currently up just over 25% as I write to you.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/15/2152389/

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South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance – TechCrunch

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market. The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), […]

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The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/14/south-korean-antitrust-regulator-fines-google-177m-for-abusing-market-dominance/

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The SEC and the DOJ just charged this startup founder with fraud, saying he lied to Tiger and others – TechCrunch

Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate […]

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Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate executive or board member.

The DOJ, which arrested Lachwani earlier, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.

Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.

By the SEC’s telling, his fabrications were designed to help secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.

The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”

In the investigation that led to the DOJ’s charges, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue,” says the department.

How far off were these collective calculations? The complaint says that ultimately, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million.”

According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million. Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that the company was planning to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.

The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had already been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.

Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks helped lead the internal review as a then-director on the board of Headspin, said The Information.

The SEC says it’s investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.

Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.

The company itself, which says it has been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.

Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/25/the-sec-and-the-doj-just-charged-this-startup-ceo-with-fraud-saying-he-lied-to-tiger-and-others/

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Blockchain startup XREX gets $17M to make cross-border trade faster – TechCrunch

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform. The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has […]

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Blockchain startup co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang in front of the company's logo

XREX co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform.

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Part of the new round will be use to apply for financial licenses in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa, and partner with banks and financial institutions, like payment gateways.

“We specifically wanted to build a regulatory-friendly cap table,” XREX co-founder and chief executive officer Wayne Huang told TechCrunch. “It’s really hard for a startup like us to raise from banks and public companies, but as you can see, this round we deliberately to do that and we were successful.”

Huang sold his previous startup, anti-malware SaaS developer Armorize Technologies, to Proofpoint in 2013. Armorize analyzed source code to find vulnerabilities, and many of its clients were developers in Bangalore and Chennai, so Huang spent a lot of time traveling there.

“We ran into all sorts of cross-border money transfer issues. It seemed almost unstoppable,” Huang said. “Growing up in the U.S. and then in Taiwan, we were not exposed to those issues. So that planted a seed, and then when Satoshi [Nakamoto] published the bitcoin white paper, of course that was a big thing for all cybersecurity experts.”

He began thinking of how blockchain can support financial inclusion in emerging markets like India. The idea came to fruition Huang teamed up with XREX co-founder Winston Hsiao, the founder of BTCEx-TW, one of Taiwan’s first bitcoin exchanges. Hsiao grew up in India and founded Verico International, exporting Taiwan-manufactured semiconductors and electronics to other countries, so he was also familiar with cross-border trade issues.

XREX Crypto Services give merchants, especially those in countries with low U.S. dollar liquidity, tools to conduct trade in digital fiat currencies. “They have to get quick access to the U.S. dollar and be able to pay it out quick enough for them to secure important commodities that they want to import, and that’s the problem we want to solve,” said Huang.

To use the platform, merchants and their customers sign up for XREX’s wallet, which includes a commercial escrow service called Bitcheck. Huang said it is similar to having a standby letter of credit from a commercial bank, because buyers can use it to guarantee they will be able to make payments. Bitcheck uses digital currencies like USDT and USDC, stablecoins that are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Merchants pay stablecoin to suppliers and XREX escrows the funds until the supplier provides proof of shipment, at which point it moves the payment to them. XREX’s crypto-fiat exchange allows users to convert USDT and USDC to U.S. dollars, which they can also withdraw and deposit through the platform.

Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its fiat currency platform, though Huang said it doesn’t plan to add too many cryptocurrencies “because we’re not built for crypto traders, we’re built for businesses and brand really matters to them. Brand and compliance, so whatever the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency says is a good stablecoin is what they’re going to use.”

Some of XREX’s partners include compliance and anti-money laundering providers like CipherTrace, Sum&Substance and TRISA. Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its security and compliance features, including Public Profiles, which are mandatory for customers, and user Reputation Index to increase transparency.

In a statement about the funding, CDIB Capital Innovation Fund head Ryan Kuo said, “CDIB was an early investor in XREX. After witnessing the company’s fast revenue growth and their commitment to compliance, we were determined to double our investment and lead this strategic round.”

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/22/blockchain-startup-xrex-gets-17m-to-make-cross-border-trade-faster/

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