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Making sense of the market right now with Danny Rimer of Index Ventures

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If you’re feeling confused about the state of startup investing, join the club. Public company shares have been relentlessly hammered in recent months amid rising fears of a recession, yet startup funding seems as brisk as ever and, more surprising, to us, VCs are still routinely announcing enormous new funds as they have for many years.

To better understand what’s going on, we talked this week with Index Ventures cofounder Danny Rimer, who grew up in Geneva, where Index has an office, but who now splits his time between London and San Francisco, where Index also has offices. (It just opened an office in New York, too.)

We happened to catch Rimer — whose bets include Discord, 1stdibs, Glossier, and Good Eggs, among others —  in California. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length.

TC: This week, Lightspeed Venture Partners announced $7 billion across several funds. Battery Ventures said it has closed on $3.8 billion. Oak HC/FT announced almost $2 billion. Usually when the public market is this far down, institutional investors are less able to commit to new funds when the public market is down, so where is this money coming from?

DR: It’s a great question. I think that we should remember that there have been extraordinary gains for a lot of these institutions over the  last few years — call it actually the last decade. And their positions have really mushroomed as well during this period. So what you’re seeing is an allocation to funds that most likely have been around for a while. . . . and have actually provided very good returns over the years. I think that investors are looking to put their money into institutions that understand how to allocate this fresh new money in any market.

These funds keep getting bigger and bigger. Are there new funding sources? We’ve obviously seen sovereign wealth funds play a bigger role in venture funds in recent years. Does Index look farther afield than it once did?

There certainly has been this bifurcation in the market between funds that are probably more in the business of asset aggregation and funds that are trying to continue the artisanal practice of venture and we play in the latter camp. So in relative terms, our fund sizes have not become very significant. They have not grown dramatically, because we’ve been very clear that we want to keep it small, keep our craft alive and continue to go down that route. What that means is that when it comes to our institutional investor base, first of all, we don’t have any family offices, and we don’t take sovereign wealth fund money. We really are talking about endowments, pension funds, nonprofits and funds of funds that make up our base of investors. And we’re fortunate enough that most of those folks have been with us for close to 20 years now.

You do have quite a bit of money under management, you announced $3 billion in new funds last year. That’s not a tiny amount.

No,  it’s not tiny, but relative to the funds that you’re alluding to — the funds that have have grown a lot and have done sector funds or crossover funds — if you look at how much Index has raised [since the outset] versus most of our peers, it’s actually a very different story.

How much has Index raised over the history of the firm?

We should check. I wish I could have the exact number at the tip of my tongue.

It’s sort of refreshing that you don’t know. Are you in the market now? It does feel like it’s been one year on and one year off in terms of fundraising for most firms, and that this isn’t changing.

We’re not in the market to fundraise. We are obviously in the market to invest.

We’re starting to see a lot of companies reset their valuations. Are you having talks with your portfolio companies about doing the same?

We’re having all types of discussions with companies within our portfolio; nothing is off the table. We absolutely do not want to suspend disbelief when it comes to the realities of the situation. I wouldn’t say that it’s an umbrella discussion that we’re having with all our companies. But we consistently try and make sure that our companies understand the current climate, the conditions that are specific to them, and make sure that they’re as realistic as possible when it comes to their future.

Depending on the company, sometimes the valuations have gotten well ahead of themselves, and we can’t count on the crossover funds coming back . . . they have to defend their public positions. So some of these companies have to just weather the storm and make sure they’re prepared for difficult times ahead. Other companies really have an opportunity to lean in during this period and capture significant market share.

Like a lot of VCs, you say you’d prefer that a startup conduct a ‘down round’ rather than agree to onerous terms to maintain a specific valuation. Do you think founders have gotten the memo that down rounds are acceptable in this climate?

It really depends. I think you probably have some new funds that started during this period — you have some new sector funds — that make it complicated because [they’re] not investing in the best business. [They’re] investing in the best business, or trying to fund the best business, within that sector. So there are probably some pressures with respect to some of the VCs that’s being felt by some of the entrepreneurs.

I do want to highlight that not all companies need to take a cold shower with respect to valuation. There are a lot of companies that are doing very well, even in this environment.

Fast, an online login and checkout company, quickly shut down earlier this year, and Index was razzed a bit online for quickly removing the company from its website. What happened there and, in retrospect, what more could Index have done in that situation? I’m guessing your team had a postmortem on this one.

I wasn’t aware that we took it down from our website. I guess it’s probably there but probably harder to find, is what I suspect. We do promote the companies that are doing great.

You’re right, we did digest it as a firm and really tried to take the lessons learned from there. There are a number of factors that we’re still digesting or we can’t know about but probably what was difficult during COVID was really evaluating talent and understanding the folks that we were working with. And I’m sure that my partners who were responsible for the company would have been able to spend more time and really understand the entrepreneurial culture of the company in a lot more detail had we been able to spend more time with them in person.

(We’ll have more from this interview in podcast form next week; stay tuned.)

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Uber to sunset free loyalty program in favor of subscription membership

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Ride-hailing giant Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

Uber first launched the rewards program in 2018 as a sort of frequent flyer scheme that allowed riders to earn points for every dollar spent on rides or Uber Eats deliveries. Those points could then be used to get discounts on future rides or deliveries. In November 2021, Uber began introducing Uber One, which, for $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, allows members perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of over $30.

In an email sent to customers that was picked up by The Verge, Uber said users can still earn points via the legacy rewards program until the end of August, and that they can redeem those points until October 31. Uber Rewards will officially shut down on November 1, 2022, according to an update posted by the company.

The Uber Rewards program allowed users to earn 1x point for every Uber Pool dollar spent, 2x for every UberX dollar spent and 3x for every $1 spent on Premium. The number of points accumulated would put members into different castes of loyalty, from Blue to Gold to Platinum to Diamond, the latter of which comes with benefits like access to highly rated drivers, free delivery on three Uber Eats orders, access to better customer service and free upgrades.

While phone support will continue for Diamond users, now the only way to get additional perks with Uber will be to shell out for a subscription. Existing Rewards members will get a free one-month subscription to Uber One, but then will be charged for access. If you’re someone who orders Uber Eats more than twice a month, you can easily break even with the Uber One subscription, but plenty of users might not see the money saving benefits in the switch.

Uber did not respond immediately for clarity as to why it is shutting down the Rewards program in favor of the Uber One membership. Perhaps the company did not see the returns and user loyalty that it would have expected from the program and thinks a subscription offering will provide better returns.

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Twilio gets hacked, teens ditch Facebook, and SpaceX takes South Korea to the moon

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Hi again! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly recap the top stories from TechCrunch dot-com this week. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Is Facebook for old people? If you’ve got a teenager around the house, you’ve probably heard them say as much. The most read story this week is on a Pew study that suggests this generation of teens has largely abandoned the platform in favor of Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/etc.; whereas in 2014 around 71% of teens used Facebook, the study says in 2022 that number has dropped down to 32%.

other stuff

Mark Cuban sued over crypto platform promotion: “A group of Voyager Digital customers filed a class-action suit in Florida federal court against Cuban, as well as the basketball team he owns, the Dallas Mavericks,” writes Anita, “alleging their promotion of the crypto platform resulted in more than 3.5 million investors losing $5 billion collectively.”

A troubling layoff trend: While tech layoffs might, maybe, hopefully be showing signs of slowing, Natasha M points out a troubling trend: some companies are announcing layoffs only to announce another round of layoffs just weeks or months later.

SpaceX launches South Korea’s first moon mission: South Korea has launched its first-ever lunar mission — a lunar orbiter “launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket” ahead of plans to land on the surface some time in 2030.

Twilio gets hacked: While it’s unclear exactly what data was taken, Twilio says the data of at least 125 customers was accessed after some of its employees were tricked “into handing over their corporate login credentials” by an intense SMS phishing attack.

Amazon’s bizarre new show: Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” but made up of user-submitted footage from Ring security cameras. By now most people probably realize their every step is recorded on a security camera or three — but doesn’t embracing it as Entertainment™ like this feel kind of…icky?

Haus hits hard times: Haus, a company that ships specialized low-alcohol drinks direct to consumers, is looking for a buyer after a major investor backed out of its Series A. The challenge? Investor diligence for an alcohol company can take months, and Haus just doesn’t “have the cash to support continued operations at this time.”

woman pouring wine

Image Credits: Haus

audio stuff

How clean is the air you breathe every day? Aclima co-founder Davida Herzl wants everyone to be able to answer that question, and sat down with Jordan and Darrell on this week’s Found podcast to explain her mission. Meanwhile on Chain Reaction, Jacquelyn and Anita explain the U.S. gov’s crackdown of the cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash, and the Equity crew spent Wednesday’s show discussing whether the turbulent market conditions of late will mean we see fewer early-stage endeavors in the months ahead.

additional stuff

What lies behind the paywall? A lot of really good stuff! Here’s what TechCrunch+ subscribers were reading most this week…

Building an MVP when you can’t code: Got a great idea but can’t code? You can still get the ball rolling. Magnus Grimeland, founder of the early-stage VC firm Antler, lays out some of the key principles to keep in mind.

Are SaaS valuations staging a recovery?: “…the good news for software startup founders,” writes Alex, “is that the period when the deck was being increasingly stacked against them may now be behind us.”

VCs and AI-powered investment tools: Do VCs want AI-powered tools to help them figure out where to put their money? Kyle Wiggers takes a look at the concept, and why not all VCs are on board with it.

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After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, online threats quickly turn into real-world violence

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Threats of violence reached a fever pitch — reminiscent of the days leading up to the Capitol attack — following the news that the FBI raided Trump’s Florida beach club to retrieve classified documents the former president may have unlawfully taken there.

After Trump himself confirmed Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago, pro-Trump pundits and politicians rallied around declarations of “war,” and Trump’s ever-fervent supporters called for everything from dismantling the federal law enforcement agency to committing acts of violence against its agents. The situation escalated from there in record time, with online rhetoric boiling over quickly into real-world violence.

By Thursday, an armed man identified as Ricky Shiffer attempted to force his way into an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, brandishing a rifle before fleeing. Law enforcement pursued Shiffer and he was fatally shot during the ensuing standoff with police.

Analysts with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit that researches extremism and disinformation, found evidence that Shiffer was driven to commit violence by “conspiratorial beliefs related to former President Trump and the 2020 election…interest in killing federal law enforcement, and the recent search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week.” He was also reportedly present at the January 6 attack — another echo between this week’s escalating online threats and the tensions that culminated in political violence at the Capitol that day.

Shiffer appears to have been active on both Twitter and Truth Social, the platform from Trump’s media company that hosts the former president and his supporters. As Thursday’s attack unfolded, Shiffer appeared to post to Truth Social about how his plan to infiltrate the FBI office by breaking through a ballistic glass barrier with a nail gun had gone awry. “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t,” the account posted Thursday morning. “If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops…”

In posts on Truth Social, the account implored others to “be ready to kill the enemy” and “kill the FBI on sight” in light of Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago. It also urged followers to heed a “call to arms” to arm themselves and prepare for combat. “If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here,” the account declared earlier this week.

By Friday, that account was removed from the platform and a search of Shiffer’s name mostly surfaced content denouncing his actions. “Why did you censor #rickyshiffer‘s profile? So much for #truth and #transparency,” one Truth Social user posted on Friday. Still, online conspiracies around the week’s events remain in wide circulation on Truth Social and elsewhere, blaming antifa for the attack on the Ohio FBI office, accusing the agency of planting documents at Mar-a-Lago and sowing unfounded fears that well-armed IRS agents will descend on Americans in light of Friday’s House passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“‘Violence against law enforcement is not the answer no matter what anybody is upset about or who they’re upset with,’ FBI director Christopher Wray said in light of emerging threats of violence this week. Trump appointed Wray to the role in 2017 after infamously ousting former FBI director James Comey.”

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists clad in Nazi imagery marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The ensuing events left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sent political shockwaves through a nation that had largely grown complacent about the simmering threat of white supremacist violence.

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