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Welcome to the 2-Minute Drill -- a curated selection of the week's hottest stories from the world of tech, all in 2 minutes.

As a reminder, join us on Tuesday mornings at 8am PT / 11am ET in the Crossover Club on Clubhouse where we talk through the week's stories in more detail and with a rotating panel of special guests from the worlds of pro sports, entertainment and technology. 

As always, shoot me a note to learn more or if you just want to say 👋.

-Noah  


✉️ noah@crossovervc.com
📱 650.468.9543
📸 @crossovervc 
👋 @ndl / the Crossover Club


On my whistle...
Special Event

 
This Thursday, November 18, Noah is organizing and co-hosting a webinar in partnership with Salesforce and Brex on the topic of raising capital in the new venture landscape

2021 has seen record funding for both startups across the US and the venture capital firms that back them. Total dollars invested are up, valuations are up, the number of new firms writing checks are up, and COVID has accelerated a shift in capital allocations into fast-growing markets such as Austin and Miami. What does this new landscape mean for founders looking to raise capital, and how can they navigate this rapidly-changing ecosystem?

In this session we bring together experienced founders and investors to offer a deep dive into the fundraising market today, tools for navigating when, where, and with whom to raise, and will wrap with some predictions for how the environment may evolve in 2022.

Our lineup of incredible speakers include:
  • Kat Cole, (Co-host) - Kat is an Advisor, investor, and leadership & brand expert for consumer brands, franchises and funds. She serves on the Board of Directors of MilkBar, Slice, and the HumanCo SPAC, and was most recently COO and President of the multi-billion dollar restaurant conglomerate FOCUSBrands.
  • Anu Hariharan, Partner, Y Combinator - Anu Hariharan is a YC Continuity Investing Partner. Previously, Anu was an investment partner at Andreessen Horowitz, where she worked actively with the management teams of portfolio companies including Airbnb, Instacart, Medium, OfferUp and Udacity. Anu holds an MS in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from The Wharton School.
  • Russ Heddleson, Co-Founder & CEO, DocSend - Russ is the co-founder and CEO of DocSend, a service for securely sending and tracking documents that was acquired by Dropbox in 2021 for $165m after raising only $15m of venture capital. He was previously a product manager at Facebook, and has held roles at Dropbox, Microsoft, and Trulia. Russ holds a BS/MS in Computer Science from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Russ is a frequent speaker and recognized expert on the topic of startup fundraising globally.
  • Katie Thiry, Principal, Salesforce Ventures - Katie joined Salesforce Ventures in 2020 and is focused on investments in leading enterprise software businesses.  Prior to joining Salesforce, Katie worked at Sapphire Ventures, Vista Equity Partners and Crosslink Capital as an investor in the Bay Area.  She began her career as an investment banker at Barclays in New York.  Katie received her BA at Princeton University and MBA at Kellogg School of Management. Katie lives in Mill Valley, CA with her husband and golden retriever puppy. Outside of work, Katie is an avid skier, foodie, and traveler.
We are thrilled to have such a great lineup of experts and perspectives. To learn more and register for the free event, please click here!
FIRST DOWN


 

Curated Calls in the Experts With a Fresh $75 Million
With holiday shopping season just around the corner, this week San Francisco-based provider of collaborative online shopping tools Curated announced a new $75 million Series C round of funding to help make buying the perfect gift (or treat for yourself) much simpler. This brings the 4-year-old startup's total funding to more than $140 million.

We've all been there before. We want to buy a new winter coat, or a pair of skis, or carryon luggage, or hiking boots--and you head to Google or send a text to friends or post to social media asking for advice or recommendations. Curated is looking to use technology to simplify that process and provide users with an expert in the palm of their hand to help get the exact right item for their specific needs.

Here's how it works. Users enter the item they are looking to buy (eg "Golf Clubs") and then answer a short series of questions before being paired up with an expert in that specific category. These experts are curated by the startup to be both an expert in the field, and also at asking the right questions to get to know you so they can then recommend the best products for your specific needs. Together you explore the best items for your needs via calls or texts, and then when you're ready to make a purchase, you do so through Curated. Here's a cool visual.

The service is free to consumers, and Curated reports that more than a million people have used the service, with a nearly 0% return rate, compared with 10-30% industry averages.

The challenge with mass recommendations has always been that what's good for the masses--and ultimately what pops out of aggregated star ratings--isn't necessarily good for you or your specific needs. Hence the need for a startup like Curated to help leverage technology to personalize and simplify the shopping process. And the timing couldn't be better, with 2022 set to become the first year in which online shopping surpasses the 1 trillion mark in a single year.

(more here)
SECOND DOWN


 

Alt Hits Ctrl+Alt+Raise on $75M in New Funding for Collectibles
This week, San Francisco-based alternative assets investing platform Alt announced a $75 million Series B round of funding at a reported valuation of more than $325 million for its platform where collectors can invest in trading cards (and increasingly a wider range of collectibles) as easily and transparently as stocks. This brings the nearly two-year-old company's total funding to more than $100 million. In addition to venture capital investors, Alt attracted some star power as well, in the form of adding Tom Brady, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Alex Morgan, Candace Parker and Marlon Humphrey to the cap table.

With Alt, users can upload their card collections to the platform and send the physical items to Alt's vault (which they refer to as the "Fort Knox" of trading cards), track the value of their portfolio in realtime, and transact with lower transaction fees than are typically charged by eBay (12.5%) and traditional auction houses (12-25%). What's unique about Alt is that nearly all of the underlying assets (the cards) are never physically transferred between buyers and sellers. Instead, traders view them more as assets akin to stocks and bonds, and simply are content knowing that they own the item without taking physical custody of it. By removing the operational headache of having to send physical (and valuable) items back and forth, Alt helps streamline the process for those looking more to invest in the asset class for financial reasons versus those who want the physical item to display on a shelf and collects a nice transaction fee each time they are traded. 

With the new funding, Alt plans to launch a mobile app, expand into more categories of collectibles, and explore ideas around lending to customers against their assets. 

As we wrote about in our prior coverage of the startup, Alt is by no means the only player tackling the collectibles market. Some of the others worth noting include:

Trading Cards Marketplaces Collectibles Fractional Collectible Ownership (more here)
THIRD DOWN


 

Don't Call it a Comeback: Sandbox VR is Back With a $37M Power Up
As we've written about in the past, for all the hype around Virtual (and Augmented) Reality--and now "Metaverse" -- few companies have yet to break through and deliver commercially viable VR products. From Oculus to HoloLens to Gear to Vive and beyond, headset and content creators alike have built impressive products that initially "wow" consumers, but ultimately fail to sustain interest and adoption over time. 

One of the companies that was bucking that trend was Silicon Valley and Hong Kong-based Sandbox VR, which builds Location Based Virtual Reality (LBVR) that enables users to freely roam within an environment that features a mixture of hardware and software components. Somewhat of a cross between going to the movies, playing an immersive video game and visiting a theme park, these LBVR companies are currently the closest thing to demonstrating to everyday consumers the longterm promise of VR.

For all the talk of tech companies that were accelerated due to the pandemic, Sandbox had a decidedly different experience altogether. All brick and mortar venues shut down, human interaction minimized, and certainly no putting on VR headsets that were worn by a stranger just 10 minutes ago--and navigating in an indoor confined space with others!

But through all of that, Sandbox has shown grit and determination, and is back and reports growing faster than ever as the world returns to normalcy and even more interest in virtual environments has been stoked. After filing for bankruptcy and laying off 80% of employees in 2020, Sandbox just closed on a new $37 million Series B round of funding led by prior investor a16z.  The company has now raised a total of $119 million, and recently opened three new locations in Austin, Las Vegas and Shanghai, with 10 more slated for 2022.

The Money Quote: “As we continue to innovate in the VR industry, we’ll move towards the virtualization of our physical spaces. One day, it’ll be like stepping into a portal where players can embody their persistent virtual avatars.” -- Sandbox CEO and co-founder Steve Zhao

For now Sndbox is focused on immersive VR experiences. Tomorrow? Perhaps the lead-in to the long-sought-after true metaverse.

(more here)
FOURTH DOWN


 

Foody Looks to Satisfy Those Food Recipe Cravings
This week, San Francisco-based platform for culinary creators Foody pulled $1.5 million in pre-seed funding fresh out of the oven as it looks to become the next vertical player in the booming creator economy. This is the first reported round of funding for the nascent company. 

We have written at length about the booming creator economy, which is roughly defined as the growing class of small businesses centered around 50 million+ independent content creators, curators, and community builders that are monetizing their skills directly from their audience. As this ecosystem grows, we have seen massive amounts of innovation (and funding) pouring into platforms catering to these needs--and specific verticals and mediums. These include Substack for writers, OnlyFans for adult content, Cameo for personal celeb shout outs, Etsy for artists, Clubhouse for social audio, and many more. 

Foody is looking to carve out its niche in becoming the marketplace for food-specific creators. The primary focus is on helping chefs monetize their recipes directly from consumers. As the pitch goes, for consumers it's a convenient platform for finding and saving all your favorite recipes in one convenient spot. And for chefs, it is a way to monetize recipes directly from fans and earn 10 times more (and get faster) than through publishing in a traditional cookbook.

The startup is coming out of the gate with 30 notable food influencers, and hopes to build a thriving and profitable ecosystem comprised of chefs and the 98% of Americans who cook at home at least once a week.

It's far to early to speculate on the success of Foody as a business, but as with all of these players in the creator economy, the hope is that the technology can successfully and profitably make it easier for people to operate businesses and earn a living off of their skills, and be compensated directly by their biggest fans--as opposed to traditional ad-based models.

(more here)
EXTRA POINT



Talent in Tech: Valora
"If you can text, you can crypto" -- or so goes the tagline for San Francisco-based mobile crypto wallet Valora--which raised a $20 million Series A round of funding back in July, and recently augmented that with a list of nearly a dozen athletes and entertainers.

As anyone dipping their toe into crypto can attest to, getting started can be complicated and difficult to navigate. And while buying Bitcoin or Ethereum has been simplified by established digital brokerages, the broader benefits of crypto are still in their infancy and inaccessible to most.

Valora is looking to change that. The startup provides a mobile crypto wallet that removes many of the structural barriers that makes transacting with crypto so difficult, with a goal of making it as easy to send crypto as it is to send a text. The startup wants to enable anyone with a phone number to send funds globally for a fraction of a cent, earn rewards on held balances of stablecoins (crypto pegged to USD or EUR), and access a broader range of decentralized finance apps from the convenience of their mobile phone.

Underpinning the startup's bold ambitions is its use of Celo--an open-source blockchain ecosystem focused on making decentralized financial (DeFi) systems and tools accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Valora was initially created as part of Celo's Labs division, but has since been spun-out as a separate entity that fully leverages the underlying technology and protocols.

So what are the advantages Valora is looking to provide by using this new technology stack? These include:
  • Use of mobile phone number vs the 42-character long public keys
  • Minimal internet connectivity required, thus expanding utility for underserved populations globally
  • No traditional bank account required
  • Full independent control of personal funds (vs relying on a centralized entity like a bank)
While the startup is still young, they are beyond simply the theoretical phase. The startup reports that it has been used by a number of foundations and NGOs to quickly and efficiently get funds to communities in need far across the globe. This includes Impact Market using Valora to process more than $4 million to thousands of beneficiaries of universal basic income (UBI) assistance in countries including Ghana, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe.

One final note on the celeb angle here. One of the biggest challenges the crypto ecosystem currently faces is overcoming inertia and the complexities of the cold start problem for the vast majority of the population who hasn't yet dipped a toe in. By leveraging the brand power of celebs, more and more crypto companies are looking to add athletes and entertainers to the cap tables to help amplify their message and get users to take that leap.

Athletes + Entertainers involved include: entertainers Sean "Diddy" Combs, Nas, and Quincy Jones, NBA stars Carmelo AnthonyKevin DurantDanny Green, and Andre Iguodala, Larry Fitzgerald from the NFL, and the artist Derek Fordjour.

(more here)
 

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Disclaimer: The content in this newsletter is for informational purposes only and should NOT be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice. It also does NOT constitute an offer or solicitation to purchase any investment or a recommendation to buy or sell a security.



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