Clubhouse proves that time is a flat circle

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

First, a big thanks to everyone who took part in the Equity survey, we really appreciated your notes and thoughts. The crew is chewing over what you said, and we’ll roll up the best feedback into show tweaks in the future.

Today, though, we’ve got Danny and Natasha and Chris and Alex back again for our regular news dive. This week we had to leave the Vroom IPO filing, Danny’s group project on The Future of Work and a handwashing startup (?) from Natasha to get to the very biggest stories:

  • Brex’s $ 150 million raise: Natasha covered the latest huge round from corporate charge-card behemoth Brex. The party’s over in Silicon Valley for a little while, so Brex is turning down your favorite startup’s credit limit while it stacks cash for the downturn.
  • Spruce raises a $ 29 million Series B: Led by Scale Venture Partners, Spruce is taking on the world of real estate transactions with digital tooling and an API. As Danny notes, it’s a huge market and one that could find a boost from the pandemic.
  • MasterClass raises $ 100 million: Somewhere between education and entertainment, MasterClass has found its niche. The startup’s $ 180 yearly subscription product appears to be performing well, given that the company just stacked nine-figures into its checking account. What’s it worth? The company would only tell Natasha that it was more than $ 800 million.
  • Clubhouse does, well, you know. Clubhouse happened. So we talked about it.
  • SoftBank dropped its earnings lately, which gave Danny time to break out his pocket calculator and figure out how much money it spent daily, and Alex time to parse the comedy that its slideshow entailed. Here’s our favorites from the mix. (Source materials are here.)

And at the end, we got Danny to explain what the flying frack is going on over at Luckin. It’s somewhere between tragedy and farce, we reckon. That’s it for today, more Tuesday after the holiday!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups – TechCrunch

6 Reasons Your Hockey Stick Growth Curve Can Go Flat

annual-report-growth-flatEvery entrepreneur thinks he can relax a bit after his business model is proven, funding is in place, and revenues are scaling as projected up that hockey-stick curve. Unfortunately, the market is changing so fast these days that any upward climb can level off quickly, as the core business growth begins to stall. This S-Curve, with no correction, can quickly lead to disaster.

I’m not talking here about a small pivot. I’m talking about the kind of change that moved Apple from personal computers to music distribution to consumer electronics, and Amazon from books to e-Commerce to cloud computing services. On the other end of the spectrum are companies that fell behind the curve and may never recover, including MySpace for social networking, Yahoo with online ads, and Groupon with discounts for group purchasing.

To sustain long-term growth, every company needs to build a repeatable process for innovation and finding new opportunities before their core business growth disappears. The reasons for this requirement, and some practical guidelines for how to prepare, are outlined in the classic book “The Curve Ahead: Discovering the Path to Unlimited Growth,” by Dave Power.

Power has been guiding growth companies for 25 years, and now teaches innovation at the Harvard Extension School. He has helped many companies with this problem, and as an advisor to startups, I see the same common themes leading to growth slowdowns. These are appearing earlier and earlier in emerging companies, as well as in mid-sized and mature companies:

  1. Your original market becomes saturated. Initially, all companies sell to customers who are the easiest to reach and most excited about the new product. As a company begins to penetrate its market, it begins to work hard and harder, often in new geographies, to find more prospects. Marketing costs and time go up, and the growth curve flattens.
  1. Competitors see the same opportunity. New players jump in, and existing players broaden their offerings to cover the same territory. They steal a share of your market, slow down customer buying decisions, making it harder to close new business, and put the brakes quickly on your exponential growth.
  1. Prices begin to decline quickly. The first customers are early adopters who are the least price-sensitive. Unfortunately, the mainstream customers who can really drive revenue care more about price. Thus even if unit sales keep increasing, revenues can lag due to the need for lower prices as the mainstream market takes over.
  1. Customer acquisition gets harder and more expensive. Scrappy guerilla marketing based on personal contacts and word-of-mouth campaigns gives way to more expensive customer acquisition using advertising, trade shows, and a marketing agency. You suddenly need to enhance your in-house social media efforts with a public relations firm.
  1. An expanding customer base demands better support. Serving a growing customer base – with a great customer experience – requires more time and dedicated resources. In the early days, your product engineers could handle customer support. Over time, however, a continuous growth company needs a trained and dedicated support team.
  1. Management overhead and skills required go up. In the beginning, your entire team could meet in your office. As the company grows, functional leaders need to build and manage larger teams, recruit and develop talent, and manage remote offices. Managing the scale and complexity requires more formal processes, which slow the momentum.

Your first objective should be to stretch the S-Curve, which can buy you a few months or a few years. Among the most common ways to stretch the curve include deeper penetration of current markets, expanding into new geographies, new market segments, optimizing pricing and packaging, and driving consolidation through acquisition of competitors.

Ultimately you need to find the next S-Curve, and then the next, and build the process into your strategy, for unlimited growth. This means you need to find new sources of revenue growth to offset a slowdown in the core business. It means finding a large underserved market and addressing this market with a product or service innovation, often with a different business model.

Successful entrepreneurs and successful companies never stop re-inventing themselves. The alternative of not anticipating the curves, and not building the navigation systems into your core engine, is likely to be a long and painful fall off a high cliff. Do you have a plan in place yet?

Marty Zwilling
Startup Professionals Musings