StrictlyVC: November 8, 2016

Election day! We’re excited, we’re optimistic, we’re distracted, we’re nervous. We’ll see what happens! Hope you’re having a happy Tuesday, everyone.:)

Top News in the A.M.

What the election could mean for the markets.

Donald Trump is already suing one county registrar.

Meet the Famous Guru Helping Startups Battle Bad Press

To land a press interview with Brogan Bambrogan, the former CTO of the transportation company Hyperloop, who is currently suing the company over breach of fiduciary duty and more, you must first receive the blessing of Sitrick & Company, a 28-year-old, L.A.-based public relations firm whose other clients have included the wearable tech company Jawbone, the board of vegan food startup Hampton Creek, the HR software company Zenefits and, yes, the diagnostics company Theranos.

It’s easy to appreciate why Bambrogan hired the firm to filter media inquiries. When it comes to handling crisis situations in particular, Sitrick is as well-regarded as they come. Its approach, neatly captured by its tagline, is: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”

“We’ve been in a tricky position a number of times and the thinking [in Silicon Valley] has historically been to ignore [reporters],” says one Bay Area tech founder who has hired the firm but who asked not to be named in this story. “Sitrick takes a very opposite approach. You’re made to get into the trenches and engage. It can be a pain because it takes longer and you’re busy, but in many cases, the story is better and more balanced because of it.”

At the center of it all is Mike Sitrick, Sitrick & Co.’s 69-year-old founder and chairman, who flies a Gulfstream to far-flung meetings and runs the firm with the help of 14 partners, numerous associates, and what seems like a boundless amount of energy. (Though he suffered from a collapsed lung last year, his office subsequently sent a picture of Sitrick to a concerned New York Post reporter, assuring her that he still starts his morning with 150 push-ups and 150 sit-ups.)

“He’s usually one of the first people into the office and one of the last out,” says an employee who spent more than a decade with the firm and has since joined another communications outfit so asked not to be named. “It’s such an impulse to say, ‘No comment, I don’t want to be part of a story,’” says this person. “Mike is all about providing context so reporters understand the point of view of the company that Sitrick is advocating for.”

To make those connections easier, Sitrick & Co. — which employs 50 employees and signs up roughly 250 clients each year — recruits top journalists from esteemed outlets. Among the firm’s current employees are Sallie Hofmeister, a former assistant managing editor at the L.A. Times; Seth Lubove, a former Bloomberg bureau chief in L.A.; and Wendy Tanaka, who was once the Bay Area bureau chief for Forbes.

Says Sitrick, “I keep hiring journalists because it’s easier to teach them what PR does than teach PR what journalism does.”

Spinning a yarn

Some might call what these employees do – putting the best face of hostile takeovers, plant explosions, sexual harassment claims, and earnings disasters, among other things – straight-up spin. In fact, Sitrick authored a book by that title in 1998.

Yet well-heeled clients — who pay $1,000 an hour, plus a retainer — insist that it works.

Much more here.

New Fundings

Baidu, the 16-year-old, Beijing-based search engine giant, is reportedly looking to raise between $300 million and $500 in new funding for Waimai, its food delivery unit, amid a costly battle with other Chinese internet giants for customers. Bloomberg reports here.

Beijing Byte Dance Telecommunications, the parent company of the hugely popular, 4.5-year-old news aggregator app Toutiao, is considering raising $1 billion in a new funding round that would value the company at $10 billion, according to the WSJ. More here.
Electric Jukebox, a two-year-old, London-based music streaming service, has raised £1.5 million (roughly $1.9 million) in Series A funding from a long list of investors, including Yolo Leisure. TechCrunch has more here.

Feelter, a three-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based retail review company, has raised $2 million in Series A funding led by Will Graylin, the founder of LoopPay. BostInno has more here.
Fillr, a 1.5-year-old, Melbourne, Australia-based machine learning service that automatically fills out online forms for consumers, has raised roughly $3.9 million (in U.S. dollars) in Series A funding from SoftBank China Capital, Southern Cross Venture Partners and Reinventure. Australia’s Financial Review has more here.

GuavaPass, a 1.5-year-old, Singapore-based service for finding gyms and fitness classes in Asia and the Middle East, has raised $5 million in new funding led by Vickers Venture Partners, with participation from other, undisclosed participants. TechCrunch has more here.

Indeni, a six-year-old, Tel Aviv- and Bay Area-based computer networking company that allows network operations teams to conduct preemptive maintenance, has raised $10 million from Sequoia CapitaliAngels, and CIRtech. Globes has more here.

Joy, a three-year-old, Seattle-based startup whose app aims to make wedding and honeymoon planning easier, has raised $4.5 million in seed capital co-led by Sierra Ventures and Matrix Partners, with participation from Fuel Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures and numerous individuals, including Joe Montana, Zynga founder Mark Pincus, and former TechCrunch editor Alexia Tsotsis.

Periscope Data, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based company that lets data scientists quickly build customized, detailed visualizations of their data, is raising $25 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Yesterday, TechCrunch mistakenly reported the round’s lead investor was earlier backer DFJ. More here.

Quantified Care, a three-year-old, Baltimore, Md.-based mobile platform that helps health care providers remotely monitor their patients, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from KiwiVenture Partners. More here.

Simple Contacts, a year-old, on-demand contact lens prescription app, has raised $2 million in seed funding led by Autonomous Venture, with participation from Twitch founder Justin Kan, Cruise Automation cofounder Kyle Vogt, and numerous physicians. The WSJ has more here., a two-year-old, Beijing, China-based online education startup that helps students pass language exams, has reportedly raised $30 million in Series B funding from unnamed investors, after securing $10 million in Series A funding from Baidu. China Money Network has more here., a months-old, Bend, Or.-based company whose robotic technology manages 3D printers, has raised $2 million in funding from True Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Zafin, a 14-year-old, Vancouver-based maker of relationship banking software, has raised $10 million in funding from Vistara Capital Partners and Beedie Capital Partners. More here.

New Funds

To keep promising companies from leaving Europe, the European Commissionannounced plans to day to commit up to 400 million euros ($441 million) to a new venture capital fund-of-fund. The fund will look to support a variety of venture funds that back small businesses and entrepreneurs across Europe. The Financial Times has more here.

Fresh off the $17.7 billion sale of the cable company their family founded — Cablevision — married couple James and Kristin Dolan have announced the formation of a venture capital firm. Dolan Family Ventures will focus on investments in data, analytics and technology-related business. FierceCable has more here.


Online jeweler Blue Nile is being taken private after trading on Nasdaq for the last dozen years. The Seattle-based retailer, which was originally venture backed, is being acquired by Bain Capital Private Equity and Bow Street for about $500 million in cash. ValueWalk has more here.

Karhoo, a two-year-old, New York-based startup that aimed to take on Uber by pulling together prices and offerings from competing car services into a single app, is shutting down after running out of money. The company had reportedly raised a whopping $250 million in funding last fall, including from former Sony Music Entertainment CEO Nick Gatfield, and from David Kowitz, the co-founder of hedge fund Indus Capital Partners. TechCrunch has more here.
Tesla is acquiring Germany’s Grohmann Engineering, which develops automated manufacturing systems for batteries and fuel cells, as Tesla seeks to expand its production more than sixfold by 2018. Tesla is buying a 74.9 percent stake in the company from founder and majority owner Klaus Grohmann, and a further 25.1 percent stake that belongs to the private equity firm Deutsche Beteiligungs. Reuters has more here.


Docusign cofounder and former CTO Tom Gonser has joined Seven Peaks Ventures, an early-stage Bend, Ore.-based venture capital fund. Gonser left DocuSign in February. GeekWire has more here.

VC Ben Horowitz is joining Lyft’s board of directors, replacing his fellow partner, Scott Weiss. Horowitz’s venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, first invested in Lyft in 2013 as part of its Series C round, and it participated in Lyft’s following round. It has since sold some of its shares to Prince Al-Waleed and his Kingdom Holding Co. Fortune has more here.
Denver-based ad tech company Altitude Digital has replaced its CEO and founder Jeremy Ostermiller as it looks to shift from an ad network model to focus more on its tech offering. Business Insider has more here.


Salesforce is looking for a summer MBA intern for 2017. The role is with the company’s corporate development unit in San Francisco.

Essential Reads

Facebook might muscle in on LinkedIn’s recruiting business with ways for business Pages to promote job listings. TechCrunch has more here.

Snapchat‘s ambition is to be much more than just the app you use to send goofy selfies. It wants to be a leader in augmented reality. Business Insider has more here.

Twitter might still sell Vine.

Silicon Valley is putting lipstick on Tesla‘s proposed bid for SolarCity, argues Dealbook.


It’s election night! Here’s how to fix yourself an old-fashioned while you settle in for some poll results.

Retail Therapy

Golf ball chillers (for your old-fashioned).

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