Hello, and welcome to the fourth edition of our Texas-focused column, a monthly roundup of deals that went down in the Lone Star State over the previous month. This is brought to you from hot and unusually humid Austin.
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There’s been a lot of hype around Austin’s startup scene as of late. Companies big and small are relocating, or opening up offices, in the Texas capital left and right, as we covered back in April.
Funding has increased in recent years, too. And while we’ve covered that extensively, we haven’t really looked at that funding activity in the context of how it compares to other markets.
So I asked our senior data reporter, Jason Rowley, to pull some numbers looking at average round size in various stages. There’s good and bad in what he turned up. For one, Austin ranks in the top 10 at least among major U.S. cities in terms of average amount raised at the seed, early and late stage. But unsurprisingly, considering that firms here are mostly focused on this stage, the city is stronger at the early stage and (significantly) weaker at the later when it comes to average round size.
As you can see in the chart below, Austin ranks sixth when it comes to seed-stage round size with an average of $1.46 million across 228 rounds struck between 2017 and late August 2019.
Meanwhile, Austin ranks ninth when it comes to early-stage round size with an average of $9.24 million during the same timeframe across 216 rounds, topping only Chicago among major funding-rich cities.
Its weakest performance lies at the late stage. It ranks No. 10 with an average late-stage round of $35.19 million across 46 rounds.
That Austin lacks late-stage investors on the ground has been a common refrain. And many of us believe that until that changes, we’re not going to see the needle move much in the way of big deals in the city. Increasingly, we’re seeing investors from other markets participate in rounds. But as we reported back in July, Texas-based VCs are still the primary backers of Texas-based startups.
Speaking of late stage, Austin was home to at least one significant round during the month. Fintech startup ScaleFactor raised $60 million from a bevy of investors (many of whom were notably from out of state) in its third funding round in 13 months after notching 700 percent (!) ARR growth in 2018. Read more about that here.
Over in San Antonio, Scaleworks, a firm that offers a non-traditional form of capital and debt for SaaS companies, acquired e-commerce search shop Nextopia for an undisclosed amount in its second acquisition out of its recently closed second fund. This piece on the deal also gives some background and context to the firm’s approach.
And last week, I reported on San Francisco-based digital life insurance startup Ethos announcing plans to open an office, and build out an engineering team, in Austin after raising $60 million in a Series C led by Google Ventures (GV).
News We Didn’t Get To
As always, there’s more happening in Texas than we simply have time to cover. I’ll summarize a few of those deals next.
First off, there were a couple of notable acquisitions by, and of, Austin-based companies. AustinInno reported that Spiceworks, 13-year-old Austin-based “marketplace that connects the IT industry to help tech buyers and sellers get their jobs done,” was being acquired by New York-based Ziff Davis B2B, a global marketing giant “that operates brands including IGN, Mashable, Humble Bundle, Speedtest, PCMag and Offers.com.” As part of that deal, though, AustinInno reported that there would be some layoffs. The publication cited a state filing indicating that Spiceworks would be “laying off 59 employees, as of Aug. 19.”
Also, late in the month, Austin-based Bazaarvoice, a provider of product reviews and user-generated content (UGC) “solutions” announced it had acquired New York-based and venture-backed Influenster, a product discovery and reviews platform with nearly six million “community members.”
Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
In organizational news, the Austin Business Journal reported that Claire England had resigned from her position as executive director of the Central Texas Angel Network “to pursue something new.” No word yet on a replacement.
Meanwhile, Uber announced it was opening its largest hub outside of San Francisco in downtown Dallas, according to the Dallas Morning News. The move has the potential to bring 3,000 jobs to that area.
And lastly, to our above point regarding funding, there were a number of seed and early-stage rounds that caught our attention. One in particular included big-name investors located outside of Texas.
Over in Houston, Voyager, a company aiming to “enable the bulk commodity shipping market to operate in a unified and digital environment,” announced the completion of a $1.5 million seed funding round co-led by ATX Venture Partners, Blue Bear Capital, GreenHawk Capital, and Phaze Ventures. Voyager said its new capital would be used to expand its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) network’s offerings, further acquire and expand its customer base, and grow its engineering, development, marketing and sales teams. The company notes that while there’s a ton of funding in the container shipping sector (think Flexport, Freightos, Turvo and FreightHub for example), the $360 billion global bulk commodities industry (including crude, oils, gas, grain and metals) is actually “four times” larger by volume and drives the global container traffic.
According to Voyager, that space has been largely ignored by technology and is also losing billions a year. Via email, the company told me: “Unlike the relatively modern container industry, 99% of bulk shipments are still managed by phone, email, fax and text. A single shipment generates thousands of emails and documents. Teams are overloaded, mistakes are frequent and costly, and, most notably, 95%+ of a company’s data is sitting in folders, spreadsheets, PDFs and inboxes, inaccessible to the company and users at scale. Voyager is the antidote, modernizing the entire chain.”
And last but not least. The funding of a startup that comes with a touching history.
Nick Soman was inspired to start Austin-based Decent, which offers affordable health insurance plans for freelancers, sole proprietors, and 1099 contractors, after he realized “that not everyone is fortunate enough to have great health insurance.” During Soman’s second year studying to get an MBA at Harvard Business School, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and was paralyzed in intensive care for four months. He spent another six months in rehab. Later, Soman was working as a self-employed freelancer when he realized he was spending more on health insurance than for anything else in his family’s budget. So he focused his energy on helping freelancers have access to more affordable health insurance in the form of Decent, which he founded in 2018.
The startup just closed an $8 million seed round led by Menlo Ventures and including participation from Foundation Capital (both out of Silicon Valley). So far, the company’s plans (which it claims have premiums that are 30 to 50 percent lower than typical market rates) are currently available in Austin and will soon be available in other parts of Texas and the country. Decent plans to use the new capital in part to grow its team over the next year.
“Health insurance is too expensive, especially for people who buy their own without subsidies. Freelancers are seeing premiums rise by more than 20 percent per year,” Soman said. “The future of work demands the future of insurance.”
Well, that’s it for this month! Hope everyone had a good Labor Day weekend. See you next time.
Photo credit: Mary Ann Azevedo, Data Credit: Jason Rowley