Pranavi is an investor and writer currently doing pre-seed and seed-stage B2B SaaS investing at Acceleprise Ventures and writing at publicbeta.substack.com.
In the last few months, we’ve seen much of Silicon Valley finally start to acknowledge generations of systemic racial inequity and take actionable steps to empower and support underrepresented people in tech. Funds are looking to invest capital more equitably and have started to take concrete steps to achieve this goal.
For example, Eniac Ventures and Hustle Fund have started to meet with more Black founders via consultations and encouraging cold inbound pitches. Initiatives like venture capital fellowships run by Susa Ventures and Unshackled Ventures will allow for increased representation in investment teams. While these initiatives are exciting, it’s important to explore how we can enable sustainable change and solve the diversity problem at the root.
It’s as simple as this: Investing in diverse perspectives makes for a far more efficient economy. The data also confirms this, given that homogeneous investing teams had a success rate for M&A and IPOs that was 26.4%-32.2% lower. Data since 1990 shows that approximately only 8% of VCs identify as women, with 2% of VCs identifying as Latinx and less than 1% identifying as Black.
It’s clear that the inequitable deployment of capital that results from homogenous investment teams at VC funds has translated into missed opportunity for outsized financial returns. Since this really comes down to how venture funds operate at their core, an entity that can greatly influence this and reinvent the status quo are VC funds’ limited partners.
Limited partners are the often unheard of backers of venture capital funds. Institutional venture capital funds raise money from sources such as high-net-worth individuals (HNWs), endowments, foundations, fund of funds, banks, insurance/pension funds and sovereign wealth funds that they will in turn use to invest money into high-growth, category-defining startups (the part that you do hear about).
LPs hold a lot of power in the venture financing life cycle as institutional venture capital firms can’t write checks at the scale they do without the external financing that LPs provide. Since LPs are the source of capital, they can control who they invest in (GPs) and how they invest and manage their capital. What if LPs are the missing link who can control the flow of capital to GPs who empower, find and fund more underrepresented entrepreneurs and keep them accountable?
Off the top of my head I can think of Uber (drivers and passengers) and Beepi (used cars buyers and sellers), what are some that you can think of? In the case of Beepi for example, if you want to sell your car, they send someone out to inspect it, take photos, and — if it isn’t too old, and if it doesn’t have too many miles on it, and if it’s the right brand, and if it passes a rigorous inspection — list it on the site. A buyer can then come along, look at the photos, read the inspection report, and lay claim to the car. By doing this it solved the classic asymmetry information problem that has a place with used cars. Solving an information asymmetry problem is a very interesting value proposition and for sure a lot of other companies do it in other areas. What some cases you can think of?
Stuck in a rut? Want to change careers? Amsterdam is home to plenty of tech academies where you can learn to code and kickstart your career as a programmer. But now, with the pandemic and all, is it the right time to invest in a drastic change of course? Codam, SALT and Techionista are three of them, all aiming to solve the severe lack of developers, as well as the severe lack of diversity in the tech world. We checked in with them to see how they fare during the past couple of months.
Tough times for tech academies?
A recent report from StartupAmsterdam made clear that COVID-19 already had some impact on the more than 20 tech academies in the Dutch capital. Without naming them, some of them mentioned a dip in revenue of financial woes, partly due to less students bringing in tuition. That is however not the experience of Lisa Stamm. She is head of communications at Codam, based on Marineterrein in the heart of Amsterdam. “Since the coronavirus, we’ve seen an increase in applications. Many people see this as an opportunity to learn a new skill. I understand other tech academies have a tough time right now, because many are paid. If you’ve just lost a job, you probably don’t have an extra couple of thousand euros lying around. But at Codam, learning is for free.”
Codam’s free programming courses are the brainchild of Corinne Vigreux. After successfully co-founding navigation giant TomTom, she wanted to tackle the lack of good developers. Finding inspiration in the tuition-free French self-study schools of 42, she decided to set up a similar concept in Amsterdam to give everyone, no matter their background, the opportunity to become a developer. Codam is a foundation, funded by Vigreux, with a fully equipped building in the heart of Amsterdam. Everyone over 18 can sign up, no matter their knowledge of programming. After an initial selection, an introduction and a month of getting thrown into the deep end during the piscine (French for ‘swimming pool’), those that make it will enroll in a 3.5 years curriculum in which they learn the tools of the trade, as well as cooperation, teamwork and the need to keep on learning.
Despite coming out of a nationwide lockdown, Codam is continuing its courses. Stamm: “We’re currently in our second selection process of the year and we are fully open, just not 24/7 like we used to be. We’ve also created more space around the computers. This means we do have less workspaces.” Codam solved this capacity problem by allowing students to follow the course online, leaving ample room for people currently in the selection process.
SALT fastracks developers careers
Meanwhile, over at School of Applied Technology, or SALT for short, they did feel the pinch of the lockdown for a bit. “Before Corona, everything went super,” says Joel Lopez, responsible for sales and partnerships at the tech academy. “But combined with the summer in the middle, we did have to postpone some talks with companies we were in touch with. With everyone back from holiday, that is picking up now.” The original Swedish academy has also switched to remote working for the time being.
SALT, which is based in Amsterdams ‘house of digital innovation’ Epicenter, has not seen a slowdown in applicants. According to Lopez, they have about 1,000 people registering. Quite a lot, since they only select less than two dozen people to enroll. Just like Codam, they offer their curriculum for free. SALT does require some coding background however. After four months of intensive learning, containing over 500 hours of coding, they can confidently bump up a junior or hobby coder to a medior-level developer. The 12-months that follow after the bootcamp, has the student working on a payroll with SALT. After that, a good paying job at a software company is basically in the pocket.
Techionista gets women into ICT and tech
To speed up the process of having an equal share of women as programmers, Techionista Academy focuses solely on women. There is a long way to go, says Tamira van Roeyen. “Last year, only 16 percent of people working in IT in The Netherlands were women. Compared to the world or the rest of Europe, we’re dangling somewhere at the bottom.” After co-founding Techionista 4 years ago together with Vivianne Bendermacher, they built a strong female network by organising meet-ups and coding classes. After partnering with Microsoft, they were able to offer a full-time, 4 month Microsoft Azure Certified Data & AI-track for women to launch their career in tech. Besides the necessary ‘hard-skills’, like programming, Techionista also develops soft-skills to navigate the business world and offers a job fair to connect employers with female talents. 95 Percent of the students land a job.
Other than Codam or SALT, Techionista does charge tuition. The full four months course costs a student €3,500, which doesn’t fully cover the costs, admits Van Roeyen. “We ask the companies hiring our graduates to pay for the remaining amount after the course. If not, we carry the risk.” Techionista decided to move its entire course online due to COVID-19. A drastic change from the previous courses, but one that works out really well so far, says Van Roeyen. “The fact that 100 percent of our students graduated was mostly due to the strong sense of community during the course. It is great to see that this also works online. And with online courses, we can also enroll foreign students.” For Techionista, this offers the opportunity for international growth, something Van Roeyen is actively aiming for: “The sky is the limit.”
The importance of diversity in tech
A push for more diversity is the reason Van Roeyen co-founded Techionista. “The more diverse your team is, the better it works”, she says. Techionista offers courses solely to women to tip the scales in a male-dominated tech world. Van Roeyen: “We have anyone from sociologists and microbiologists or marketeers signing up. It’s a broad group of people, also in age.” According to Van Roeyen, students ranging from their early twenties til well in their fifties have taken the plunge to learn a brand new trade at Techionista.
That same drive for diversity lives at SALT, where they are actively striving for diversity, Lopez says: “We’ve had students from 33 nationalities since we started. Our current class consists of 35 percent women. It is something we really want to push, we also see that diversity is more important for the companies that are looking for developers. If you have teams consisting only of men in the same age, then everyone offers the same way of thinking. With different backgrounds, ages, nationalities, genders they can offer different solutions to a problem. You can then pick the best.”
At Codam, Stamm is also working in the same direction. And with result: nearly 50 percent of new students are women. Stamm: “Society is also 50/50, so the programming world should be the same. We do notice that women need more convincing to pick up programming. They miss role models in this world. So we spent a lot of energy to get more women to join. If we didn’t, I think 90 percent would still be men.” According to Stamm, the current lack of diversity could affect real life. “All the new AI-applications are written by human beings. If you only have a certain group of people writing those algorithms , they’ll have biases built in. In the end, this could mean people get left out of society.”
It seemed so simple. A small schema issue in a database was wrecking a feature in the app, increasing latency and degrading the user experience. The resident data engineer pops in a fix to amend the schema, and everything seems fine — for now. Unbeknownst to them, that small fix completely clobbered all the dashboards used by the company’s leadership. Finance is down, ops is pissed, and the CEO — well, they don’t even know whether the company is online.
For data engineers, it’s not just a recurring nightmare — it’s a day-to-day reality. A decade plus into that whole “data is the new oil” claptrap, and we’re still managing data piecemeal and without proper systems and controls. Data lakes have become data oceans and data warehouses have become … well, whatever the massive version of a warehouse is called (a waremansion I guess). Data engineers bridge the gap between the messy world of real life and the precise nature of code, and they need much better tools to do their jobs.
As TechCrunch’s unofficial data engineer, I’ve personally struggled with many of these same problems. And so that’s what drew me into Datafold.
Datafold is a brand-new platform for managing the quality assurance of data. Much in the way that a software platform has QA and continuous integration tools to ensure that code functions as expected, Datafold integrates across data sources to ensure that changes in the schema of one table doesn’t knock out functionality somewhere else.
Founder Gleb Mezhanskiy knows these problems firsthand. He’s informed from his time at Lyft, where he was a data scientist and data engineer, and later transformed into a product manager “focused on the productivity of data professionals.” The idea was that as Lyft expanded, it needed much better pipelines and tooling around its data to remain competitive with Uber and others in its space.
His lessons from Lyft inform Datafold’s current focus. Mezhanskiy explained that the platform sits in the connections between all data sources and their outlets. There are two challenges to solve here. First, “data is changing, every day you get new data, and the shape of it can be very different either for business reasons or because your data sources can be broken.” And second, “the old code that is used by companies to transform this data is also changing very rapidly because companies are building new products, they are refactoring their features … a lot of errors can happen.”
In equation form: messy reality + chaos in data engineering = unhappy data end users.
With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.
The key efficiency here is that Datafold aggregates changes in datasets — even datasets with billions of entries — into summaries so that data engineers can understand even subtle flaws. The goal is that even if an error transpires in 0.1% of cases, Datafold will be able to identify that issue and also bring a summary of it to the data engineer for response.
Datafold is entering a market that is, quite frankly, as chaotic as the data being processed. It sits in the key middle layer of the data stack — it’s not the data lake or data warehouse for storing data, and it isn’t the end user BI tools like a Looker, Tableau or many others. Instead, it’s part of a number of tools available for data engineers to manage and monitor their data flows to ensure consistency and quality.
The startup is targeting companies with at least 20 people on their data team — that’s the sweet spot where a data team has enough scale and resources that they are going to be concerned with data quality.
Today Datafold is three people, and will be debuting officially at YC’s Demo Day later this month. Its ultimate dream is a world where data engineers never again have to get an overnight page to fix a data quality issue. If you’ve been there, you know precisely why such a product is valuable.
With the ongoing pandemic and for a greater good of the planet, more and more people are switching to healthier and sustainable lifestyles. Also with Tesla stocks breaking all records and smashing Wall Street market, it looks like several consumers are choosing to move to electric cars and mobility options.
The same trend is quite evident in Europe too and especially the Netherlands, known as the bike/green country. Everything in the cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other others are proposed keeping the ‘green’ quotient in mind. Several local startups are working towards the same and one of them is Amsterdam-based fast-charging company Fastned, which builds a nationwide network of fast-charging stations in the Netherlands. The startup aims to help riders of electric vehicles commute across the country with ease.
From Wednesday, June 24 to Tuesday, July 28 investors could subscribe to the bonds with 6% interest and a maturity of 5 years. In addition, an offer has been made to investors with bonds maturing in December 2021 and June 2022 to extend these bonds by exchanging them for bonds in this new issue. More than a quarter of bonds from earlier issues have now been converted to bonds from this issue, reducing the repayment obligation for Fastned in 2021 and 2022 by €2.7 million.
Michiel Langezaal, CEO Fastned: “It’s great to see that so many people investing in a more sustainable world. With the proceeds from this bond issue, we can further expand the capacity of our network. The rollout of fast-charging stations is crucial to get people to switch to an electric car.”
Expansion of fast-charging network
With the issue of bonds, Fastned is financing the expansion of its fast-charging network among other things. As there is strong growth in the number of electric cars and the demand for fast-charging infrastructure, this expansion will definitely pave the way for its growth.
At these stations, electric drivers can add up to 300 km range in 15 minutes with electricity from the sun and wind. Founded in 2012 by Michiel Langezaal and Bart Lubbers, Fastned has 118 charging stations in the Netherlands, UK and Germany. All stations are open to the public 24/7.With this move, the company aims to expand across Europe by increasing the number of fast-charging stations. The Dutch company is focusing on establishing its stations in Belgium, France, and Switzerland among other countries.
Managing an office can be a hassle at times, especially if you’re a startup. Notably, remembering birthdays, planning seasonal events or handling emergencies. Copenhagen-based startup Good Monday aims to make the office management job easier for you with their digital platform.
Easiest workspace management platform
Mik Strøyberg, CEO and founder of Good Monday spoke to Silicon Canals recently and says, “So far, offices have been running without a centralised system for office management. Price transparency, flexibility, overview, and digitalisation have not typically been words connected to the B2B Office Service Industry. The industry has been closer related to lack of price transparency, overview, and long termination periods on all office services.”
He further explains, “We have built an easy to use Workspace Management platform that brings together all office services, contracts, contacts, and invoicing, bundling all communication.”
Raises €3.5M, plans expansion in London
Founded in May 2018 by Mik Strøyberg, Good Monday is a digital office management system taking care of all office related needs.
After recently raising $ 4 million (€3.5 million) funding from London-based VC, firstminute Capital as lead investor and with participation from existing investors Creandum, Seed Capital, and Preseed Ventures — Go Monday now plans to expand in London. Further, the company also aims to fuel product development, and accelerate the mission to change the way companies run their offices.
Strøyberg says, “We will use the investment to conquer the London office market and further position us as the leading Workspace Management Platform. We also plan to accelerate the development of our platform in 2020.”
So, how does it work?
Good Monday has built a Workspace Management Platform with an integrated marketplace of office services. This includes everything from cleaning, coffee, and lunch to employee benefits such as gifts, flowers, birthday cakes, and yoga. The platform gives companies full flexibility and provides a complete economic overview of how the office is run. In other words, Good Monday has taken the infrastructure from co-working, made it digital, and injected it into private offices.
Helping companies during COVID-times
During COVID-19, companies all over the world have been forced to cut costs and make sure everything runs as efficiently and flexibly as possible.
That’s why – according to Strøyberg – the platform has only become more relevant. “The crisis has been a challenge, of course. We all know the horrible things the virus has brought and continues to bring, but as a business, we very quickly saw some light in the dark. We decided to focus our energy and efforts on how to help people and companies shut down their offices the best way possible and maybe more importantly, how to get back the best and safest way possible. This worked extremely well for us, and we have learned that our platform is actually more or less built for situations like this one,” he reveals.
A headache-free office environment?
So far, Good Monday has been operating in Copenhagen, Denmark, and with more than 150 companies on the client list – ranging from tech startups to embassies and law firms – it’s now time to take on a new market: London.
The vision for the Danish startup is to become the world’s leading Workspace Management Platform. At the first stop on that international journey, the London office is set up with five employees and multiple clients are already on board.
Making the international expansion financially possible is primarily the UK early-stage VC firstminute Capital, led by Brent Hoberman. According to Hoberman, who’s also the founder of Lastminute.com, Good Monday is a unique player when it comes to changing the way an office is run.
“COVID-19 has changed the office space as we know it. As lockdown eases, it will be more important than ever for office environments to offer something compelling enough to compete with the benefits of working from home. Such services – that help build a strong office culture and a more productive work environment – are the types of services that Good Monday’s marketplace unlocks,” says Brent Hoberman, co-founder and Executive Chairman at firstminute Capital.
“Good Monday taps into the same zeitgeist as co-working spaces, offering companies a headache-free office environment, but with a radically more sustainable and capital-efficient business model. We’re proud to back team Good Monday as they expand internationally to make office operations smoother, more transparent, and fun,” he continues.
In 2019, Good Monday saw a 230% growth in revenue and a 430% growth in the number of customers. With this latest capital injection, Good Monday has now received close to $ 7M in less than 2 years, and at the start of next year, the startup is looking to raise a Series A.
No competitors in Europe
Talking about competitors, Strøyberg says, “We do not have any competitors in Europe. Our biggest competitor globally is Eden, which is primarily operating in the US. We believe that our consumer-approach makes us unique. Not only do we offer facility services like cleaning, lunch and handymen – we also provide all kinds of services to improve the happiness and motivation of employees.”
He further concludes by saying, “We are a Danish company and our platform is born out of Nordic work values. We are on a mission to create better work experiences and help companies improve what we believe is really the most important thing: The happiness of the employees.”