SAN FRANCISCO—No edition of the Disrupt conference would be complete without an unfair share of buzz about some of the buzziest topics in the startup world. Space. Cannabis. IPOs. Of course, flying cars. As the 2019 edition of TechCrunch's signature conference came to a close, PitchBook reporters covering the event dug into their notebooks to recap some of the highs and lows of this year's startup confab.
Spiegel on SnapEvan Spiegel was met with a welcome sight when the Snap CEO took the Disrupt stage on Friday morning: A supersized chart depicting Snap's stock movement during 2019, a year in which the price of the social media company's shares has increased nearly 150%. In some ways, the hard times have made the past several months all the sweeter.
"When the going gets tough, you really have to sit there and think about what you're doing, if this is something that you really believe in," Spiegel said. "I think that was actually a really great thing for our team to go through."
Spiegel also defended Snap's commitment to its Spectacles and batted away criticism that the company's Streaks feature can be unhealthy. He also took good-natured umbrage to a question from moderator Josh Constine about Spiegel's wife, model Miranda Kerr, and her belief that exposure to electric and magnetic fields can be dangerous.
"Why don't we make a deal," Spiegel quipped. "I won't make fun of your wife on stage, and you won't make fun of mine." —K.D.
Ex-Pax chief is vague on abrupt departureBharat Vasan, former CEO of Pax Labs, largely declined to provide details on Friday regarding his abrupt departure in September from the San Francisco-based cannabis vaporizer company that he had led since February 2018. Vasan vaguely referred to his exit as being part of a "natural transition" as a company evolves.
Additionally, Vasan took a long pause when asked about any connection between Pax Labs' products and the recent wave of vaping-related illnesses and deaths. Eventually, he gave the answer, "I want the CDC and the regulatory bodies that are actually looking into the case to kind of investigate these causes and come back." Vasan was paired onstage with Keith McCarty, founder and CEO of cannabis-focused e-commerce platform Wayv, to talk about the challenges and potential of the emerging cannabis industry. —I.A.
Decision time on Uber stockGV, Alphabet's venture capital arm, has multiple bets on the transportation and autonomous driving markets. It will soon reach an important fork in the road. GV, with a 5.2% pre-IPO stake in Uber, is one of the largest shareholders in the company, which in about a month's time will allow its insiders like GV, Benchmark and SoftBank to sell their shares as the lockup period expires.
The market will be watching closely for a sign of their intentions. Speaking onstage at Disrupt, GV's CEO, David Krane, called the stock attractively "on sale" for long-term investors, which at its Friday closing price of $29.67 is a far cry from the IPO price of $45 back in May. GV's stake worth is more than $2.1 billion following Friday trading. He was noncommittal about selling shares when the lockup period ends and said it's still unclear. Added Krane: "We're going to have a big decision to make." —A.D.
Impossible Foods says no to an IPOThe most successful VC-backed IPO of 2019 so far belongs to Beyond Meat, which has seen its stock price climb roughly 500% since going public in May. You might think that immediate success would mean that Impossible Foods, which is probably Beyond Meat's biggest rival in the plant-based meat sector, is eager to conduct an IPO of its own. You'd be wrong.
"We are not looking in the near-term future toward an IPO," Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown said at Disrupt. In May, the company raised $300 million in fresh venture capital at a $2 billion valuation. "We have great investors, we have a lot of private investors who are willing to bet on us and so forth. So at this point, it's not something we need." —K.D.
Africa's 'nascent' startup scene faces headwindsMarième Diop, an investment manager at Orange Digital Ventures, said that only about $1.2 billion in venture capital flowed into all of Africa over the last year. She cited difficulties in infrastructure and a troubled e-commerce environment as two hindrances to the region's growth. Wale Ayeni, International Finance Corporation's head of venture investing in Africa, countered that VC funds in to the region are "doubling or tripling" year over year, calling the region's startup scene "nascent." Diop and Ayeni spoke along with Sheel Mohnot, general partner at 500 Startups. —I.A.
Actor-turned-entrepreneur disses YouTubeJoseph Gordon-Levitt, the actor and entrepreneur, called YouTube and Instagram a "net negative" for society, citing their dependence on advertising revenue which he claims stunts creativity in favor of profit-seeking. By contrast, Gordon-Levitt's nearly decade-old company, HitRecord, provides a platform for artists to collaboratively create content that is monetized by sales of a work's intellectual property rights.
He told a full conference room about his distaste for the prevailing advertising-based media platforms. "I think that's a basic business model that we all as a world should get off entirely," Gordon-Levitt declared.
Los Angeles-based HitRecord pulled in outside funding for the first time in January, grabbing $6.4 million from Javelin Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital and Advancit Capital. —I.A.
Big funds, big valuationsRuss Heddleston of DocSend, Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and Annie Kadavy of Redpoint Ventures convened Thursday for a wide-ranging discussion about the current state of early-stage investing. Hudson, who focuses largely on seed rounds, attributed a good part of the reason for rising early-stage valuations to the fact that firms are raising much larger funds to soak up all the private capital that's available.
When you're acquiring a relatively small stake in a startup, Hudson said, it's often not worth the trouble to haggle with a founder about a $12 million valuation versus a $15 million valuation. "In a $100 million fund, are you really going to stress about $300,000?" he said. "Probably not." —K.D.
Slack & SoftBankOn Thursday, moderator Kate Clark confronted Slack co-founder Cal Henderson about the fact that the workplace messaging startup raised past cash from SoftBank, mentioning the strong ties between SoftBank and the Saudi Arabian government. Henderson acknowledged that some of Saudi Arabia's actions are "abhorrent," then hemmed and hawed a bit, saying it was "hypothetical question" since Slack is now publicly traded. Ultimately, though, he said that if Slack were talking to SoftBank now, the company "would have a lot more information today than we did when we took that capital from SoftBank."
In the same panel discussion, Megan Quinn of Spark Capital weighed in on SoftBank and how the massive amounts of cash the Japanese investor likes to dole out make it so different from other firms. "I wish they weren't writing quite so big of checks, that's for sure," Quinn said. "I tend to think that if we are looking at the same deal as SoftBank, one of us is looking at the wrong deal." —K.D.
The backstory of Aspect's breakupIn September, Aspect Ventures, one of the first Silicon Valley venture firms founded by women, announced that founding partners Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw would be going their separate ways, ending a five-year partnership. Their motivations weren't totally clear when the news came out.
Fonstad, who is forming a new firm called Owl Capital, told reporters at the time that the breakup had to do with different leadership styles, but Gouw has kept quiet about things since then. She has formed a new firm called Acrew Capital with four other partners. On Friday, she broke her silence and suggested there were differences at Aspect over approaches to managing the firm, which closed a $181 million second fund in 2018. "We all have equal say in investment decisions," Gouw said. "And that's my management style. I'm all about team first." —A.D.
Featured image of Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and TechCrunch editor Josh Constine via Steve Jennings for TechCrunch