Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

“Keep your head high and give them hell.”

My grandma, Opal Thompson, once wrote that to me in a letter, like the dyed-in-the-wool, strong Texan woman she was. It is now tattooed on my forearm for all to see. Memories of her powerful presence and great advice have been a North Star on my path to entrepreneurship, as well as the kick in the pants I have needed along the way to confidently go toe-to-toe with nonbelievers in my industry. “Honey, you need to work harder and smarter than men and get ‘er done,” she once told me. It may sound folksy, but it’s gotten me to where I am today.

Last October, my fearless cofounder Carolyn Rodz and I “gave them hell” with an announcement of which I couldn’t be prouder: our small business growth platform Alice just closed a Series A round of funding. That’s a major accomplishment that I think is newsworthy in its own right. But, the headline is even better. We required a morality clause in the funding agreement, legally demanding repercussions in the event of racial, gender, or sexual orientation discrimination.

As we were pitching Alice for funding, Carolyn and I went back to the fundamentals of why we started Alice for small business owners in the first place. Our platform exists to break down barriers to growth for our community of more than 100,000 business owners — especially entrepreneurs who are women, veterans, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Whether that means access to tips and best practices or funding opportunities of which they otherwise wouldn’t be aware, our job is to help small business owners “get ‘er done” — whatever that means to them. For us, there is an immense responsibility in being a comprehensive resource that small business owners trust to help them grow their ventures. We’re always encouraging our owners to try new approaches and go big in every aspect of their development, and that includes pushing owners to challenge institutions that stand in the way of their successes.

One institution that has long stood in our way is the silent perpetuation of discriminatory and predatory behavior by influential investors. While we’ve seen a rise of so-called “Weinstein” clauses drafted in the wake of the watershed #MeToo movement two years ago, most of those cases refer to protections for investors against investee executives who have outstanding allegations.

This is an important step in the right direction of instilling accountability at all levels of business. But we were left asking ourselves, “what happens when an investor is the one #MeToo’d?”

We at Alice were troubled by the lack of legal consequences for key decision makers, from board members to venture capitalists, given the reputational harm their actions could inflict on the businesses they touch. So to protect the reputation we have worked so hard to build for Alice and to protect the business owners who seek us for help every day from across the globe, Carolyn and I decided to lead by example and take a stand with our own investors. We took the “Weinstein” clause and flipped it, giving our board members the agency to use corporate governance mechanisms to vote for removal of any board member in the event of a #MeToo event, racial discrimination, or sexual orientation discrimination incident. Simply put, Alice and its investors are not afraid to show you the door if your behavior doesn’t serve the best interests of our community of entrepreneurs.

Including this provision was crucial to our vision for the company as we continue to grow. It echoes our core values of inclusivity within our online business community. And, as our users seek venture capital, we want them to know that they have the right to stipulate what should be common sense legal protections while still securing the funding they need. We have provided the clause openly here so everyone can take advantage — and not have to pay the legal bills we did.

Making sure that this information is available to anyone who wants it is part of our commitment to ensuring that everyone in business gets a fair shake. To have other founders include morality clauses like ours in their funding agreements is as important to me as the fact that we did it ourselves. We must make this a trend.

Our morality clause is also important to us as we strive to improve the broader business community and the way we all seek funding. Small businesses represent nearly 95 percent of all U.S. employers and support the careers of more than 50 percent of Americans.

But, while the small business landscape is changing into a New Majority, with more women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks starting businesses every day, the demographic of venture capitalists is much slower to change. To date, 89 percent of venture capital deciders are still men, and of all the investments they make, only 2 percent of them are in female-owned businesses. Less than half of a percent of women who receive venture capital are Latina, and the representation is even worse for other minority communities of entrepreneurs.

By now, Carolyn (who is Latina herself) and I have learned that we have to make our presence known in a business world that has often excluded us. And as more #MeToo behaviors come to light across industries, we’ll be able to protect our businesses and entrepreneurs making lasting impacts on our communities.

As we look to the next chapter of Alice and its expansion into new markets in 2020, we will continue to share our unique funding story with hopes that other small businesses will be inspired and empowered to do the same.

Venture capitalists be warned: the New Majority of entrepreneurs is here to stay, and our morality clause is just the beginning of a new path to small business success.

I think Grandma Opal would be proud.


TechCrunch

Slack created a new solution for workplace communication, one copied by many, even Microsoft. But the product, which is meant to help individuals and businesses collaborate, has been critiqued for sending too many notifications, with some claiming it’s sabotaged workplace productivity.

Quill, a startup led by Ludwig Pettersson, Stripe’s former creative director and design aficionado, claims to offer “meaningful conversations, without disturbing your team.” The company has raised a $ 2 million seed round led by Sam Altman with participation from General Catalyst, followed by a $ 12.5 million Series A at a $ 62.5 million valuation led by Index Ventures partner and former Slack board observer Sarah Cannon, TechCrunch has learned.

Quill and Cannon declined to comment.

The company, based in San Francisco, has created a no-frills messaging product. Still in beta, Quill plans to encourage fewer, more focused conversations with a heavy emphasis on threads, sources tell TechCrunch . The product is less of a firehose than Slack, says former Y Combinator president Altman, where one can get stuck for extended periods of time filtering through direct messages, threads and channels.

“It’s relentlessly focused on increasing the bandwidth and efficiency of communication,” Altman tells TechCrunch. “The product technically works super well–it surfaces the right information in the feed and it’s pretty intelligent about how it brings the right people into conversations.”

Pettersson previously worked with Altman at his current venture, OpenAI, a research-driven business focused on development that steers artificial intelligence in a “friendlier” direction. Pettersson was a member of the company’s technical staff in 2016 and 2017, creating OpenAI’s initial design.

Index Ventures, for its part, appears to be doubling down on the growing workplace communications software category. The firm first invested in Slack, which completed its highly-anticipated direct listing earlier this year, in 2015. Slack went on to raise hundred millions more, reaching a valuation of over $ 7 billion in 2018.

Since going public, Slack has struggled to find its footing on the public markets, in large part due to the growing threat of Microsoft Teams, the software giant’s Slack-like product that debuted in 2016. Quickly, Microsoft has gobbled up market share, offering convenient product packages including beloved tools used by most businesses. As of July, Teams had 13 million daily active users and the title of Microsoft’s fastest-growing application in its history. Slack reported 12 million daily active users earlier this month.

Startups like Quill pose a threat to Slack, too. It created the playbook for workplace chat software and proved the massive appetite for such tools; companies are bound to iterate on the model for years to come.

Quill is also backed by OpenAI’s chairman and chief technology officer Greg Brockman and Elad Gil, a former Twitter executive and co-founder of Color Genomics.


TechCrunch

German just hit a new milestone in the space where venture capital and the burgeoning Cannabis industry meet.

Berlin startup Demecan has completed a Series A financing round of 7 million euros to expand its production facility for medical cannabis and the wholesale trade in Germany. It’s become the only German company allowed to produce medical cannabis in Germany.

This is a watershed for the country and is the first investment in this sector for btov Partners, a private investor network. The other half of the funding came from a single, named German family office, which is understood to have its roots in the consumer goods sector. Only two other companies, two of them from Canada, were awarded the contract to produce medical cannabis in Germany in May 2019.

btov Partners manages assets of €420 million and has previously invested in tech startups such as Blacklane, Data Artisans, DeepL, Facebook, Foodspring, ORCAM, Raisin, SumUp, Volocopter and XING.

The green light from Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), means Demecan will be able to produce at least 2,400 kilograms of dried cannabis flowers over the next four years. Demecan is also active as an importer and wholesaler of medical cannabis and can thus cover the entire value chain. Since the German government allowed cannabis to be prescribed for therapeutic purposes in 2017 demand has outstripped supply.

Jennifer Phan of btov Partners said in a statement: “Demecan operates in a very attractive market at the right time. Germany currently represents the third-largest market for medical cannabis in the world and is on a growth path. We believe that the company has a first-mover advantage in a highly regulated market environment, especially as it is the only German manufacturing and trading company in the European market”.

Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, co-founder of Demecan, added: “In recent years, we have intensively dealt with the market and reached an important milestone by winning the tender process. We are now focusing on further growth and the start of production in 2020.”


TechCrunch

Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered “talent investor” that recruits and backs individuals pre-team and pre-idea to enable them to found startups, has announced its plans to expand to Canada.

It marks the first time EF has entered North America. Along with London, EF currently operates in Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangalore.

The new Canadian outpost, due to launch in early 2020, will be in Toronto and follows EF’s $ 115 million first closing of a new fund in February.

At the time of the fund announcement, the talent investor/company builder said it would use the capital to continue scaling globally — specifically, enabling it to back more than 2,200 individuals who join its various programs over the next three years.

This, we were told, should amount to around 300-plus venture-backed companies being created, three times the number of startups EF has helped create since being founded by McKinsey colleagues Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck all the way back in 2011. Clearly, setting up shop in Toronto is part of the plan to achieve this.

Often – mistakingly – described as an accelerator, EF stands out from the many other startup programmes because of the way it backs individuals “pre-team, pre-idea”. This means that participants typically find their co-founder and found their respective companies on the programme, and that these startup may never have seen the light of day without EF.

It’s a new type of venture model that appears to be working so far — measured both in terms of exits and follow on funding — although question marks remain with regards to how scalable it can be, given that what works in one city and ecosystem with one set of EF staff may not be entirely replicable in another. Or, as one VC put it to me, “there’s only one Matt and Alice”.

With that said, others, such as Greylock partner and co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman, are convinced EF can scale. Greylock is an investor in EF and Hoffman previously told TechCrunch he can see there being between 20-50 cities “where Entrepreneur First is integral to creating a set of interesting tech companies in those areas.”

Cue a statement from Matt Clifford: “By launching a programme in a third continent, we’re a step closer to achieving our goal of giving the world’s most ambitious individuals the tools to build a company wherever they happen to be… Toronto is one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems in North America in terms of capital and talent, and the city represents a great opportunity for EF to encourage the next generation of ambitious founders.”


TechCrunch

If you’re a cannabis investor or a founder working on a cannabis-related startup, you’ve probably heard of Poseidon Asset Management.

The San Francisco-based investment firm is one of very few that is focused narrowly on the industry, which remains fairly insular for now. Poseidon has also been at it longer than most outfits, having begun making bets on cannabis-related companies six years ago. More, Poseidon has managed to stuff checks into some of the fastest-growing companies in the sector, including the cannabis vaporizer company Pax Labs and the e-cigarette company Juul, whose founders created the Pax vaporizer before peeling off to win over smokers. Indeed, because Poseidon has largely invested the money of high-net-worth individuals and family offices, it hasn’t been constrained by the same vice clauses — or restrictions by backers like pension funds and other institutions — that can often hamper where venture capitalists invest.

Poseidon is notable for yet another reason, too. It was founded by siblings Emily and Morgan Paxhia, whose parents both died of different cancers at the ages of 46 and 52, respectively. In fact, despite — or because of — being a young teenager at the time, Emily Paxhia says she can still very much remember the hospice nurse who recommended to her father that he smoke pot to ease his pain. Little did Paxhia know then that the cannabis — then a surprising and exotic concept — would later inform the career she now enjoys.

We talked about it earlier this week, as well as how Paxhia and her brother decided back in 2013 that cannabis was going to be the next big thing. If you’re curious about their path, and where they’re shopping now, read on.

TC: You grew up in Buffalo and you say your parents were entrepreneurial.

EP: Our dad restored homes in an economically depressed part of Buffalo, and our mom worked for a real estate agency. When I began running his books, voilà, we had a family business.

TC: Then he became sick when you and your siblings were young. How did that impact you?

EP: He was a dyed-in-the-wool hippy. We had Woodstock tickets in our home. He never really accepted the status quo, which I think informs the way we view the world. But yes, he became aggressively sick with cancer in 1994 and passed away in 1996, and it was this non-virtuous cycle, where they would put him on this or that medication and each had its own terrible side effects. Finally, a hospice nurse who came to our home said, “John, maybe you should smoke some pot.” She told us it would help with his appetite and reduce his anxiety and help him sleep. It was this palliative care thing that had been stigmatized but she believed was useful. I don’t know if he tried it or not, but then he passed away, and five years later, our mother, who was very healthy and ran and took care of herself, also died of cancer.

I’ve often looked back and thought that if my parents had [used cannabis at the end of their lives], they would not have suffered so greatly.

TC: How did you get from Buffalo to starting a fund in San Francisco, seemingly out of the blue?

EP: After college, I was spending time in New York and in San Francisco, working in market research, including on behalf of Amex and Viacom and Comedy Central — all companies competing in markets that were very saturated. It was hard to find white space. When I moved to California [full time], I started to see people lining up outside the doors of dispensaries and I thought, “Here are people who ordinarily wouldn’t break a law, but they’re doing something that’s federally illegal because they want cannabis. Brick-and-mortar is dying elsewhere and it’s thriving here. This is what product-market fit looks like.”

TC: At what point did you decide to partner with your brother and why?

EP: He worked for UBS during the downturn [of 2008] and then he landed in Rhode Island, working for a private registered investment advisor. And I called him, and I said, “Dude. I think the ‘thing’ of our generation is cannabis.” I actually remember where I was standing in San Francisco. We’d always thought we’d be in business together, and he took me 100% seriously, and then we couldn’t turn it off. From that point on we were figuring out “how do we participate in this?”

It was Morgan who identified that a fund made the most sense, that the industry was happening and it was very underserved from a tech and investor perspective. He knew the industry was going to need funding and that investors would need an actively managed strategy.

TC: How did you get started?

EP: It was hard. It was very hard to find attorneys to work with us, but we did. The same was true of auditors and back-office administration. Everything that’s normally a check-the-box type of process was hard.

TC: What about investors? How did you begin lining these up with out a track record?

EP: I had that qualitative consulting experience, working with brands and helping them scale; Morgan had traditional investment experience. But there were no data sets at the time. All we could do was be “in market” all the time. We traveled to be with companies. We traveled to different geographies because each has such complicated regulatory nuances to it.

Raising money was really difficult. We got laughed at quite a bit. It’s funny, many of our earliest investors were lawyers because I think they understood the real, versus the perceived, risk involved in what we were doing.

TC: Eventually, you began to assemble this evergreen-type fund and you began investing while fundraising. Were you shopping at the outset?

EP: We focused initially on the tech aspect of the industry. To us, that was where we saw the biggest gap and the biggest opportunity to potentially scale quickly. Also, those companies tended to be started by tech founders who were [secondarily] interested in cannabis.

TC: How were you drumming up deal flow?

EP: It was going into stores, seeing what they were using in terms of tech, talking with retail associates about what people were buying, going to industry events and to cannabis job fairs to see who was hiring, then starting to build relationships with those companies. We knew as entrepreneurs ourselves that being as founder-friendly as possible would be the key to our deal flow. And we started having founders bringing us other founders. We’ve now led 20 rounds at this point, and our best deal flow has come from the founders themselves.

But it’s also been a matter of getting out there and walking up to people and saying, “Have you thought about raising capital? If so, let’s keep talking.”

TC: Do you feel like you now recognize founders you shouldn’t back?

EP: What 100% does not work in this industry is hubris. In other areas of business, a certain level of confidence bodes well for founders. But this is not a move-fast-and-break-things industry. There are so many regulatory challenges that you really need to know the lay of the land. I’ve seen people come in and bounce right out again because of their attitude.

Founders also need to understand the extra costs in time and money that come with running these businesses and to model accordingly; otherwise, projections are off and valuations are off and you’re facing a potentially down round later in time.

TC: You were able to return money to investors in January, after Juul distributed a special dividend. Is that your biggest exit to date?

EP: That was a big one, but we’ve had other big exits out of [an earlier] pair of funds through [several investments in Canadian companies], including [medical marijuana company] Aphria [which went public last October] and Canopy Growth [which went public in 2014, is Canada’s second-largest grower and is currently valued at roughly $ 15 billion]. Canada is a very different market. You can order cannabis from the government and it will arrive in the postal mail. It’s very top-down unlike in the U.S., where the market is very bottom-up and state by state.

There’s a lot of investment going on [across U.S. and Canada]. It’s very permeable at this point. I was in Toronto last week, and licensed producers there want to invest more in California. We’re meanwhile looking at Latin America and Europe.

TC: That’s interesting. Where in Latin America and why?

EP: The cost to produce cannabis in Colombia is extremely low. Cannabis grows on a 12-hour cycle very well and the equator runs through the country’s southern sector [making its warm climate conducive to the plant’s growth]. Local companies can export the products at a lower cost than in Canada and Europe. [Operators there] also have distribution relationships with European markets [that are buying medical marijuana].

Mexico is also expected to roll out its medical program in the fourth quarter of this year, which is exciting.

TC: Obviously these places have been home to drug cartels for years. Do you worry that these same organizations will take an interest in what’s being built legally in their backyards?

EP: We’ve gotten comfortable with both places. I think the cartels have begun to pivot to other places, like meth. I also don’t think it’s worth it to the cartels to get involved with legal government channels. And the groups that we focus on are themselves focused on medical cannabis and distribution to other medical touch points globally [and not the same places into which cartels are trying to move goods].

TC: I’ve read that Poseidon is trying to raise a new, $ 75 million fund. How far along are you?

EP: We have capital commitments for half the fund and hope to close it this summer. We want to be able to deploy [more capital] before legalization is [more widespread] and we have to compete with bigger funds.

TC: What is your pacing like? Relatedly, how fast do you have to move on these investments, or do you have all the time in the world right now?

EP: We expect to invest this new fund in 15 companies over two years. We’ve funded five startups with it since November, but we were in diligence on one of those for months. I’d say the average deal takes 60 to 90 days to pull together right now. We start our own diligence before the company is considering a Series A, which is where we invest. We want to help structure the round, to lead it, to have a board seat — to demonstrate our value add.

TC: Are you seeing many, or any, particularly frothy deals?

EP: Valuations are not going crazy, but the more popular a deal gets, the harder it becomes, as with any investment. We’re wrestling over a term sheet right now, because other groups got a look at it and want us to lead it, but we’re also getting negotiated against a little bit.

TC: Any parting words for investors who want to jump into the industry? Any advice?

EP: I’d say to go to events and walk the floor to see who and what stands out.

I went to MJBizCon [the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo] that happens annually every winter. The first few years that we went, there were a few hundred schlubby guys walking the floor. The year before last, there were 3,000 people in attendance, looking a lot less schlubby. Last year, I think there were 27,000 people, which I took as an indicator that there’s some interest in this space. [Laughs.]


TechCrunch

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